The story of Four Weddings and a Funeral’s success is about as likable as the movie itself: With a name that sounds like a working title the producers forgot to change, the low-budget tale of a bumbling bachelor somehow broke the box office, made an overnight international star out of Hugh Grant, and earned a Best Picture nomination.
How did a film (in U.S. wide release 20 years ago this week) shot over one month for four million dollars end up grossing more money than any British film made before it? The answer may lie in the movie’s refreshing take on romance. In an era of glossy erotic dramas ruling the box office (Basic Instinct, Indecent Proposal, Sliver etc.) filmgoers were apparently ready to watch a bunch of awkward British patricians attempt, and usually fail, to navigate sex and love. Grant’s endearing Charles at one point even mutters to Andie MacDowell’s Carrie, “Oh God, for a minute there I thought I was in Fatal Attraction.”
From the first, expletive-laden line (“Oh fuck, fuck fuck… fuck”) in Richard Curtis’s screenplay, the British sitcom writer immediately lets you know that he’s not telling another tale of the quietly restrained customs and code of the British aristocracy. In his high society the affluent are self-deprecating and foul-mouthed—the most repeated words in the movie are “fuck” and “splendid.”
Writing upper-class characters with empathy is not easy, but Curtis succeeds here by exposing their self-awareness. They know they are preposterous, as Charles reveals to Carrie— “I’m going to stay at a friend’s house; well I think ‘enormous castle’ is a more accurate description.”