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Classic Film Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral [1994]

That a low budget comedy revolving around the social calendar of the British upper classes could become the highest-grossing British film of its time… was apparently a huge surprise. At the time. That it would no longer be a surprise is largely down to this film. Four Weddings and a Funeral is an affectionate and fresh film, boasting a boatload of homegrown talent, including Simon Callow and the emerging Hugh Grant. The characters may be posh but the film is built on universal themes: love, friendship, looking like an idiot in front of someone you fancy.

Whilst the Hugh Grant staring British rom-com, in which a stuttering suitor manages to balls things up and yet come out on top, became a money-spinning cliché, this first incarnation is a genuine delight. And no actor can better show how to make a woman swoon without being overly-masculine (which doesn’t work in real life anyway).

This sly comedy revolves around people living their lives in public, attending weddings- the film doesn’t supply the everyday lives of the characters. Even in the case of our main man, the shy, perennial best man Charles, we never find out what he actually does for a living. Which makes sense in a British film, I suppose! Good form.
This extended group of friends, who probably met at school or university or Waitrose or just married people who somehow know the others maybe… who knows. They all know each other basically.

Occasionally someone new walks into their lives, like Carrie, the supposedly sparkling American girl who is a guest at the first wedding, turns up again at the second and is scheduled to be married at the third. Spoiler.

Andie MacDowell plays Carrie in a way that is probably meant to come across as being a woman who is not quite as confident as she seems… but instead the part seems rather hollow. She is smart and beautiful but falling for Charles whilst engaged to marry Hamish- a man so thick and overbearing that loving him makes very little sense. She does all of the aggressing because obviously Charles will never come out and say what he really feels!

Most people hate her performance, I don’t particularly care for it but it certainly doesn’t ruin the film for me. There are a huge number of interesting guests at the various weddings… she just happens to be the least interesting! Much like being at a real life wedding we’re introduced to various members of the crowd in a rather haphazard way. We see them across the room, learn their names, forget their names and then meet them again at another wedding… where we embarrassingly can’t remember their name. Or who they’re with.

Sweet, jolly Gareth eats too much, drinks too much and has a vest that is too tight but we love him. Eventually we realise he’s gay but as in all personal matters, the film is subtle enough not to scream it out, just to let us read the social cues- much as at a real wedding. The film’s community eventually envelops us and subtly shows how a gay character can become a focus for what is best among the other characters, who are mostly straight. Gareth is the centre of good feeling and creates a sense of family. By the end of the film you’ll be reacting to the weddings and funeral as if you knew them all.