When I heard there was going to be a sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral and that it was going to be in aid of Comic Relief, my reaction was: “Great cause. I hope it does really well.”
In fact, my reaction was “F***! F***! F***ity f***!”
If you know the film – and certainly if you love it and have watched it 17,000 times, which seems the norm for its devotees – then you will recognise these as pretty much the opening words. I am not one of those who love it. Indeed I possibly rate it the worst film I’ve ever seen.
The follow-up isn’t a whole other movie (thank God) but a coda or catch-up lasting 15 minutes as what will be the heavily trailed highlight of Friday’s telethon. That’s not long, what with all the ellipses which the creator, Richard Curtis, writes into his scripts to have his characters stammer and stutter searching for, ah, um, the right – golly gosh – words. Doubtless, though, 15 minutes will be long enough to make the fans fall in love with them all over again. Me, I’d prefer Four Funerals and a Wedding. Or better still Four Funerals and a Massive Fight Where Everyone Not Being Buried Dies or Suffers Injuries Preventing Them From Uttering Even a Random, Plaintive, Old-Times-Sake F***.
The plot is of course top secret but some details have leaked. Hugh Grant will feature as the father of the bride. Curtis promises in-jokes and new characters plus a surprise wedding singer. Oh goody. Who could it possibly be? Maybe Arthur Brown, he of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the blood-curdling scream “I am the god of hellfire!”, who’s not only brought along his showstopper flaming headdress but one for each member of the cast? Sadly, no. More likely Ed Sheeran.
On second thoughts, the worst film I’ve ever seen is Love Actually (actually). On third thoughts, The Boat That Rocked. Even Curtis’ biggest fans struggled to locate the genius in that one.
Why don’t I like the man’s work? Too soppy. Too foppy. Too sentimental. Too sickly sweet. Too contrived. Too manipulative. Too in love with Christmas. Too in love with love. Too in love with Love is All Around. Too posh. And way too much swearing.
I mean, I like swearing in films and in the right film where it doesn’t feel forced swearing can be gutter poetry, funny and profound. But swearing with perfectly rounded vowels and the correct grammar is just wrong. Here at least, though, Curtis is being accurate about the people he depicts. The posh swear like troopers – even though when it came to war they’d all be officers – and I should know because I married one. Makes you wonder about private schools and what gets taught there, doesn’t it?
Anyway, you don’t need to take my chippy word for any of this. Twenty-five years ago when the British Board of Film Classification viewed Four Weddings and a Funeral to decide what certificate to award it, they were damning. “As well as being morally bankrupt, this film joins a long line of British comedies that fail even as the credits role,” said one examiner in archive papers just revealed.
A fellow censor went even further: “Superficial, smug and carelessly (and worse, uninterestingly) nasty are words that spring to mind for a film whose central character is meant to be lovable and quirky, but is, for this viewer, a reprehensible, callous little shit.”
Censors, what do they know? About as much as the talent scout at Decca Records who rejected the Beatles, signing the Tremeloes instead. As much as all the architects and town planners who ever thought high-rise living was a good idea (note to the posh: high-rises are where you’re piled on top of each other in concrete towers which aren’t much good for growing clematis or keeping spaniels or hosting garden parties although the dampness which forms on the walls would fascinate the Farrow & Ball colour-naming department).
For Four Weddings and a Funeral was a huge hit, not least in America where they’ve always loved films about our funny, bumbling, aristocratic ways. It spawned a glut of similar romcoms, all of them dire. It, as the screenwriter Russell T Davies said, “infected the whole of fiction so that men in every drama are mostly playing variations of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings”. And it stuck the real Grant in a straitjacket or brocade dress waistcoat, seemingly destined to reprise the same ums and ahs for ever, until last year when Jeremy Thorpe gave him the chance to expand that expertise in callousness and shittery in a more challenging role.
But here’s the funny thing: I can stick the knife into Four Weddings – possibly the wrong knife, etiquette-wise, blame my schooling by the state – but I cannot quite twist it. I’ve met Richard Curtis and he’s a lovely chap, perfectly capable of defending himself against charges of ridiculous coincidences in his films and happy endings. He told me: “If Britain had as many serial killers as we see portrayed on our screens then you and I would be the last two people alive and I would be on the point of murdering you. Yet these films are acclaimed for their brilliant realism while I get slagged off for writing about the major experiences affecting millions and millions of us – love and friendship.”
Maybe he’s got a point. Maybe right now in these troubled times he’s got a very big point. And perhaps this rant has a happy ending, too. If he wants to envelop the whole country in a big, snuggly, 20-tog duvet of manners and stammers and poshness and goshness and more importantly friendship and most important of all, love, then let him. It’s only for 15 minutes.