In Britain, slightly bumbling and always tardy Charles (Hugh Grant) and his closest group of friends seem always to be attending weddings, but are never the bride nor groom, and as such, each, with the exception of gay couple Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah), is looking for love. At the wedding of their friends, Angus (Timothy Walker) and Laura (Sara Crowe), where Charles is acting as best man, Charles meets an American woman named Carrie (Andie MacDowell). For him, it's love at first sight. She too is attracted to him. Although they spend a memorable evening together, that's all it ends up being. Over three more successive weddings - some of the brides and grooms who are very near and dear to Charles' heart - and one unfortunate funeral, Charles runs into Carrie, but something always seems to prevent the two of them from getting together. He also runs into a plethora of old girlfriends, one of whom he may believe is really the one he was meant to end up with, ...Written by
A British Romantic Comedy as Good as Hollywood at its Best
Richard Curtis's films have sometimes been criticised for giving a too cosy, conservative view of British society. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" seems to take place in an England of eternal summer, a land which consists almost entirely of green and pleasant countryside and the more exclusive districts of London and which is populated solely by members of the upper and upper-middle classes. The script does cross the border into an equally idealised Scotland of mists, tartans and Highland flings, but even these scenes were actually shot in Surrey. Such criticism contains an element of truth, but is largely irrelevant when it comes to assessing the merits of the film because it ignores the fact that most romantic comedies (in other media as well as in the cinema) are set against a relatively narrow background in terms of social class, often enabling the writer to satirise the manners of that class. Jane Austin, for example, the most successful writer of romantic comedy in nineteenth-century England, set all her works among the wealthy landed gentry or prosperous bourgeoisie of the day.
Most of the action of the film takes place either at, or immediately before or after, one of the four church services mentioned in the title. The main character, Charles, is a well-to-do young man, probably educated at public school, and clearly a member of the professional classes, although we never actually discover what his job is. The film starts with a wedding at which Charles is best man to Angus, one of his old friends, and at which he meets Carrie, an attractive young American woman. The film then traces the ups and downs of the relationship of Charles and Carrie, via two more weddings (the second of which is Carrie's own, after she and Charles have split up), the funeral of Gareth, another friend of Charles who suffers a heart attack while dancing at Carrie's wedding, and one final marriage ceremony.
Hugh Grant, as Charles, gives a very good performance. Grant has a relatively narrow range as an actor, but he is capable of some excellent work within that range. There are some subtle differences between Charles and William, the character Grant played in "Notting Hill", another romantic comedy written by Curtis. William is a shy young man who uses ironic, self-deprecating humour as a cover for his shyness and lack of self-confidence. He is very much in love with Anna, that film's heroine, but is afraid to declare his love because he cannot believe that a beautiful and successful film star would take any interest in the owner of a small bookshop. Charles, by contrast, is less shy than William and enjoys more success with women. His humour is also ironic, but for a different reason. He is afraid of his emotions and of commitment and uses irony as a means of distancing himself from life and of avoiding having to commit himself.
The film can be seen as the story of Charles's journey to emotional maturity. He has had a number of brief affairs, all of which have petered out precisely because he is afraid of his emotions. His relationship with Carrie initially goes the same way and she marries a richer and older man. The change in Charles's character is partly due to the fact that he sees his carefree bachelor world disappearing as most of his friends get married, but the event which seems to have the greatest effect on him is Gareth's funeral, at which a moving eulogy is read by Matthew, Gareth's gay partner, touchingly played by John Hannah. Charles realises the strength of the love that Gareth and Matthew shared for one another and comes to appreciate that such a relationship is something to be valued.
Grant does well to make Charles a sympathetic figure, despite his having many failings quite apart from his ironic distancing of himself from the world. He is clumsy, accident-prone (he manages to lose the ring at Angus's wedding), much given to profane language and can be appallingly tactless, especially about his former girlfriends. The other main character, Carrie, can perhaps be seen as a female Charles, someone who is on the same journey as him but who has travelled slightly further. (It is significant that her name is short for Caroline, the feminine equivalent of the name Charles). She freely admits to having had over thirty previous lovers, but she is the first to want to bring emotional commitment to their relationship. Am I, incidentally, the only one to have liked Andie MacDowell's performance?- she has come in for a lot of criticism, in my view undeserved, on this board.
The film is, however, more than simply a study of relationships- it is also very funny with some superb lines. Hugh Grant can be very amusing, and there was a great cameo from Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling, nervous trainee priest who keeps fluffing his lines during one of the weddings. ("Awful wedded wife", or "Holy Goat" for "Holy Ghost"). I also liked David Bower as Charles's deaf brother David, the late Charlotte Coleman as his impudent younger sister Scarlett and Anna Chancellor as his ex-girlfriend Henrietta (also known as Duckface), whose embarrassing emotional incontinence perhaps explains why Charles is so keen to distance himself from his feelings. I was less impressed by Simon Callow as Gareth, loud, extrovert and excessively hearty (like most characters Callow plays).
To sum up, this was a very good film indeed; proof that the British cinema can produce romantic comedies as good as Hollywood at its best. 8/10
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