HE’S QUITE ENGAGING. SHE’S OTHERWISE ENGAGED.
In the 1980s, as writer Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson were enjoying the fruits of their hit comedy series Black Adder, Curtis was considering his next move. He was interested in making feature films and started working on screenplays. A man in his 30s, Curtis realized that in the past decade he had attended 65 weddings. Why not use those experiences?
In fact, Curtis would base the story of this film on something he’d always regretted – an encounter with a woman at one of these weddings where she propositioned him, but he had turned her down. Four Weddings and a Funeral became Curtis’s irresistible fantasy of what might have happened.
Meeting an American woman
The title gives us a hint as to what kind of social events we can expect as the story plays out. Charles (Hugh Grant) and his closest friends attend (in a hurry) the wedding between Angus and Laura in Somerset. At the party after the ceremony, Charles meets an American woman, Carrie (Andie MacDowell), and they hit it off. After a night together, Carrie goes back to the United States. That’s not the last they see of each other though. Three months later, there’s a new wedding that Charles and his friends attend, and there she is again – but this time Carrie has brought a new fiancé. Charles feels humiliated, but he and Carrie can’t seem to stay away from each other…
Turning Grant into a global movie star
Curtis had only one produced screenplay behind him, for the unremarkable comedy The Tall Guy (1989), but this one made him famous all over the world. Four Weddings and a Funeral became a massive hit, made director Mike Newell a household name and also turned Grant into a global movie star. He’s adorable as Charles, a single guy who has plenty of loyal friends but seems unable to find the right girl; several hilarious scenes at the weddings reintroduce him to former girlfriends who are best forgotten. But there’s something special about Carrie; not only is MacDowell beautiful, but she lends her character a certain charming mystique.
In all honesty, it’s a fine line between dull and mysterious; we don’t really learn all that much about Carrie or what makes her and Charles connect. But their scenes together are still adequately performed and gains tremendously much from Newell’s direction, Curtis’s dialogue, the superb choice of songs for the soundtrack and the locations. Part of the attraction is not only the central romance, but the portrait of this close group of friends; they build our emotions sometimes to an even greater degree than Charles and Carrie, which is particularly true in the titular funeral where a poem by W. H. Auden, ”Funeral Blues”, plays a profound, gut-wrenching role. Ironically, the poem was originally written as satire, but in the film that made it immortal to modern audiences Auden’s words are a heartbreaking tribute to a loved one, spoken by a gay man whose love was not yet fully accepted by the public.
A sobering moment, but the movie is also packed with hilarity, some of it provided by Atkinson as an inexperienced priest who at one point accidentally mentions a ”Holy Goat”. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Curtis also had a hit in 1994 with The Vicar of Dibley, a comedy series set in a rural parish, co-starring James Fleet who plays one of Charles’s friends here.
The film begins unforgettably, with Grant waking up, realizing he’s late and mumbling ”fuckety fuck” as he dresses in a rush. His befuddled screen persona was created right there and then, as far as Hollywood and the rest of the world outside Britain was concerned. Grant would be wrong to regret that.
Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994-Britain. 117 min. Color. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Directed by Mike Newell. Screenplay: Richard Curtis. Cast: Hugh Grant (Charles), Andie MacDowell (Carrie), Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona), Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson, James Fleet… John Hannah.
Trivia: Later the inspiration for a limited series, Four Weddings and a Funeral (2019).
Golden Globe: Best Actor (Grant). BAFTA: Best Film, Director, Actor (Grant), Supporting Actress (Scott Thomas).
Last word: “‘Four Weddings’ was on the cusp of old-style British film-making. It was the last movie I worked on that was cut on [original] film stock, not computer. I’ve always been grateful that it was shot by Mike in such a lively, gritty way. It’s a sketch movie, and he directed it as if it were a drama.” (Curtis, The Guardian)