A loud laugh and a silent coup: When toffs talk about ordinary people hunting, they mean rich farmers and shopkeepers

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The Independent Online
HERE'S a practical suggestion for the British Film Institute and everyone else lobbying for a healthy UK screen industry. Why not hire a cinema, put on a private screening of Four Weddings and a Funeral and invite every practising and aspiring scriptwriter to a seminar to view and then discuss why it works so well?

Lloyds Bank, currently running a Film Challenge for 10- year-olds upwards, and the BBC's vast network of writers should be press-ganged to attend - especially the BBC, since it is agonising about why it repeatedly fails to make popular drama series. I would like to give the best seat in the house to Debbie Horsfield, who wrote the wonderful comic drama Making Out, but is responsible for inflicting on ordinary viewers the awful Riff Raff Element, thankfully about to finish on BBC1. (The critics love it, but give me one reason why we should care about any of those dire riff raffs living in Tundish Hall. I don't understand why it was given a second series: only pray a third isn't planned, but if it is, even more reason for the seminar.)

I'm not suggesting we want copycat versions of Four Weddings all over the large and small screen, but are there not some very simple lessons to be absorbed from Richard Curtis's creation, which is no masterpiece, but enjoyable.

The first is that, for once, audiences have, in Hugh Grant (Charles) been provided with a handsome male lead whose worst vices are diffidence, shyness and a tendency to oversleep: when he wakes up he swears over and over again. I, for one, am sick to death of overweight/mixed up/drunken detectives/ aristocrats/ doctors. Even acid-penned Julie Burchill, who says he's not her type, recognises she's in a minority, of - let's say - one.

Is it not refreshing that nowhere in the film are we told what Charles, or any of his mates, do for their comfy living: the world of work or money never interferes with weekend social duties: if he's not in bed, or at a wedding, he goes to art galleries and the odd pizzeria. Nor do the gym, jogging, baseball or any kind of ghastly sport intrude: with its settings of ancient churches and country houses, we could almost be back in the last century. After so many depictions of sweaty Manhattan/LA/ San Francisco lifestyles, American audiences must find it a refreshing and restful escape.

But Four Weddings is not total escapism, it is also a deeply politically correct film, though the pill is so sugared that you hardly notice it. Much has been made of the one (gay) funeral. But I have a special bee in my bonnet about treating people with disabilities with respect, on and off screen. So for me, the unexpected thrill of the film is that it has a genuinely innovative role for a deaf and mute character, David, Charles's brother (played by David Bower): it is a breakthrough for sign language, which is being used here in a hit film to brave and devastating effect: in the final scene, David saves Charles from marrying the wrong woman so that he can switch to the American he really loves. Oh yes, and this is the only scene in which there is physical violence: the bridegroom is punched. Like all the best fairy-tales, the film ends happily ever after.

Finally, and this stems from my role as a mother, I am especially relieved that this is a film free of talking dogs who fall in love with each other. In the past few weeks I've watched Beethoven's 2nd twice with my animal- mad children (it stars two St Bernards who produce masses of puppies), then a preview of John Travolta's Look Who's Talking Now (one mongrel, one dolled-up poodle cuddling up together). Give me humans in love any day.

CAN you be a member of the Labour Party and go fox-hunting with a clear conscience? Up popped Penny Mortimer (wife of John) on Radio 4's Start the Week to argue that you can. Her argument is that hunting employs people in rural areas and that ordinary country people go hunting, so Labour's last election manifesto opposing blood sports makes it look hostile to country- dwellers. I think I am being fair to her argument: unlike the foxes, she was given an amazingly easy ride - not torn to shreds - with the presenter, Melvyn Bragg, admitting that he agreed.

Well, I have just bought three hunting stocks (the white things you tie around your neck) for pounds 9.50 each. Just imagine the money required to participate in a hunt, even if you hire a horse. It is not cheap, and when toffs talk about ordinary people hunting, they mean rich farmers and shopkeepers.

I am devoted to horses; it is a life-long love affair. I have deep country roots, and know people who hunt. But I have discovered that there is a way to enjoy the thrill of chasing across open land without spilling blood. I bought the stocks because, with two daughters, we took part in an eight-mile cross-country ride. We galloped, jumped, coped with surprise ditches, and raised money for charity (Riding for the Disabled). The truth is that very few jobs in the horse world depend exclusively on fox-hunting. Fox-hunting (and the related cub-hunting) is a cruel, outdated sport. I'm amazed that in 1994 I have to write that.

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