Revisiting “Four Weddings and Funeral”

I remember the first time I saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.  I was visiting the Cheshire town of Wilmslow, and it was being shown in an old movie theatre in the centre of town.  I speculated that the theatre hadn’t changed much since the 1920’s: the seats were worn, and the floors were sticky from spilled soft drinks and sugary popcorn kernels.

I had heard a great deal about “Four Weddings”, but not being a romantic comedy sort of person at the age of 21, I wasn’t the first in the queue to go see it.  However, the newspapers and television were all proclaiming its brilliance to the point my curiosity was sparked.

I found the film absolutely charming.  In 1994, when the film was released, I was still relatively new to living in the UK. I had some experience in matters of the heart, but these were largely tinged with regret and disappointment. I had just graduated from university and was both optimistic and uncertain about what course life would take.

Four Weddings presented a hopeful thesis, that somehow knowledge of one’s true love would arrive like a thunderbolt.  Once that person had been found, life would never be the same.  The path of life which had hitherto been relatively lonely would be traversed, hand in hand, with the other.  Looking back, I realise some of its elements were more subversive than they appeared at first glance: John Hannah’s and Simon Callow’s characters were in a loving same-sex relationship described as a “marriage”.  This did not disturb the heterosexual characters, rather, their love was seen as having equal weight and worth.  I don’t recall this being particularly controversial at the time.

Four Weddings also shows a time when “normal” people could live in London: Hugh Grant’s character doesn’t appear to be well off.  He can’t afford a reliable car and lives with his sister Scarlett.  Scarlett drives an old Mini.  Yet, they seem to be living in or near the centre of the city.  London seemed like a place where one could experience life, rather than the overstuffed pressure cooker it is now.

Overall, it was a happier time, certainly a gentler time, perhaps a less divided epoch, a period when we were more receptive to romantic thoughts and feelings.  Somehow, it didn’t seem silly; love was possible, if not certain.  We could be lifted out of conventionality by its grace.  All we needed to do was to be open to the possibility, wait, and it would come.

Time moved on, but the movie remained embedded in my brain: its theme song, a cover of “Love is All Around” by “Wet Wet Wet” would ignite memories of the film whenever it played on the radio.   I have loved, been in love, and been made eloquent and struck dumb by it.  It would be lovely to say that the thesis of Four Weddings was true in its entirety; however, fiction often dissolves in the acid of time and real life. 

Nevertheless, there was something wonderful about the recent 14-minute short film entitled, “One Red Nose Day and a Wedding” which was made for charity.  The director of the original film, Richard Curtis, gathered a surprising number of the original cast, including Andie McDowell (Carrie), Hugh Grant (Charles), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona).  At first I didn’t recognise James Fleet (Tom) behind a thick beard.   Ms. McDowell is now aged 60; Hugh Grant is 58.  Nevertheless, they wear their years lightly.  Carrie and Charles are portrayed as having a daughter, played by Lily James.  She is marrying another young woman played by Alicia Vikander; Ms. Vikander’s character is Fiona’s daughter.  I smiled when this plot came to light: it showed the premise of the original film had kept up with the times, that love was what mattered, regardless of what form it took.  They had retreated somewhat from the original “thunderbolt” thesis: instead, the characters described knowing each other, and connecting in love when they held hands.  The word “thunderbolt” wasn’t used.  The ceremony was presided over by the awkward Father Gerald (Rowan Atkinson) who perhaps represented the previous era, as he had comedic-levels of difficulty getting his brain and words around two women marrying each other. The wedding was followed by a hesitant if sentimental speech by Charles, interrupted by his brother David (played by David Bower) providing cues in sign language.  The scene dissolved into the characters dancing, a whirl of white flowers and linen curtains. 

This visit to the past and present seemed all too brief, the characters left the stage too soon.  It would have been interesting to find out how love endured given all that time and fate had thrown at them.  Did Charles and Carrie have to go find a house in a quiet suburb somewhere, as London became too expensive?  Fiona was portrayed as dating Prince Charles at the end of the film: what happened?  Was Ms. Vikander’s character a result of that relationship?  Who in the world did Anna Chancellor’s character (‘Duckface’) marry, and why did he look like a latter-day version of Dr. Strangelove?   These, sadly, have to fall into the realms of speculation.  It was a sketch for charity, after all, and not intended to expand much upon the plotlines laid out in 1994.  I doubt a full sequel will ever be made, nor do I think we’ll pass this way again.  Perhaps it’s just as well: this is a harder, less sentimental age.   Weddings are more manufactured than ever; with rare exceptions, love appears to have been drowned in popular culture by the altogether less committal just “fancying each other”. 

I’ve arrived at the age of 46.  I have seen enough of life and love to know that it’s never quite as simple as one hopes.  The path I’ve followed is jagged, pockmarked with potholes and blocked at times by high mountains; it sometimes feels like I’ve made terrible mistakes just as often as good decisions.  But perhaps the obstacles presented by real life mean we desperately need the gentility that Four Weddings still represents: the capacity for one’s heart to be touched, for belief to be reaffirmed.  I still feel that desire swell whenever I hear “Wet Wet Wet” proclaim that “love is all around”, and see the first flowers bloom in the spring, hinting that it is wedding season.  Perhaps one day we will return to a kinder time when we have more space and capacity for sentiment.  I hope so.

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