At one point during Four Weddings and a Funeral, bumbling fop Hugh Grant turns to his mate and asks: “Do you think there really are people who would just go up and say ‘Hi babe, name’s Charles. This is your lucky night’?”
“Well if there are, they’re not English,” comes the knowing reply.
And that’s it. That is Richard Curtis’ founding premise; the guiding principle upon which he has based the totality of his output to date. Namely, that Englishmen are fey and snivelling creatures who scuttle flat-footedly about in beleaguered search of a woman with a spare mason-jar to house their testicles.
You’ve doubtless seen one or two of his films. Let me guess: Four Weddings, right? No? Notting Hill? Love Actually, then. Okay, Bridget Jones’ Diary. For the purposes of this article it doesn’t really matter which: they’re all more or less the same film.
They’re typically set in almost unrecognisably verdant suburbs of London whose streets and squares look more like the snoozing quadrangles of an Oxford college than the spittle-flecked and gum-caked warrens of a concrete metropolis. It is impossible to obtain a licence to operate anything other than an organic delicatessen or a second-hand book shop in Curtis’ London and the whole place is redolent of ground coffee beans. Homosexuals are treated with benign tolerance so long as their symptoms are confined to a modestly eccentric choice of wardrobe. Though, of course for your average red-blooded straight man, the odd spot of bum-sex seems de rigueur – indeed almost a right of passage. Note the scene in the immediate aftermath of wedding number one (of Four) where braying toff number twenty three (in nearly as many minutes) blithely declaims: “I was at school with [the groom’s] brother Bufty, tremendous bloke. He was head of my house. Buggered me senseless. Still, taught me a lot about life.”
The presence of the working classes is regrettably still necessary in order to see to the driving of cabs and the serving of lattés but even the least feudally-spirited among them are no worse than endearingly rambunctious and can be called to heel by employing a correctional tone. Nobody says “fuck”without adding some linguistic sugar-coating to make it sound all twee and fluffy (“oh fuckitty” or “fuck-a-doodle-do”). Brown people are a rare curiosity and Northerners don’t exist.
Into this idyll, wan to the point of translucence and squinting like a new-born, stumbles Hugh Grant, attended by a coterie of the drippiest drips on the planet who despite being the most dismal failures professionally, still contrive to split their time pretty evenly between their artfully rusticated suburban town houses and a succession of ivy-clad manors in the luscious country side. Interpose a glamorous American socialite in the market for a new human doormat and, as we English are apparently so fond of saying, Bob’s your uncle.
Hugh has made a very decent living, chiefly under the patronage of Curtis, portraying the most simperingly deferential man in the history of the species. His childhood nickname in Notting Hill is revealed to have been “Floppy”, a moniker which, along with his flaccid locks seems to serve in Curtis’ films as some grotesque metaphor for the virility of English manhood. And not a stiff upper-lip in sight.
For you see, Hugh takes submissiveness to almost fetishistic levels. In trying to describe the personality of his on-screen charges, one is reminded of that famous occupational guidance counsellor sketch of Monty Python’s. “Our experts describe you as an appallingly dull fellow,” John Cleese tells the unlikely would-be lion-tamer cowering before him, “unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful.”
At no point is this more evident than the scene in Four Weddings when Hugh rouses himself to the pinnacle of his assertive powers and unburdens himself of his love for ‘Murican temptress Andie MacDowell thus:
“Look, sorry, sorry, uh, I just, um, this is a really stupid question, and um – particularly in view of our recent shopping excursion – but, uh, I just wondered if, by any chance, um….uh…. I mean obviously not because I’m just some git who’s only slept with nine people but I-I just wondered, uh, I-I really feel, um, uh, in short, to recap in a slightly clearer version, uh, in the words of David Cassidy, in fact, um, while he was still with the Partridge family, uh I think I love you and, uh, I-I, uh, just wondered whether by any chance you wouldn’t like to um….uh….uh…. no, no. No, of course not, um, I’m an idiot. You know what, excellent, excellent, fantastic, lovely to see you. Sorry to disturb. Better get on.”
And there you have it. Englishmen were forever typecast as the only people in the world who would begin and end a proposition with an apology.
Imagine one selling you a car. We’d open by telling you that the mileage had been fiddled, the transmission was fucked and the whole thing was being held together by gaffer tape and a load-bearing paint-job. If you spend any time in the USA, for instance, you’ll be left in little doubt as to how we are perceived across the pond. In my experience, the American male views his English counterpart with a mixture of pity, ridicule and mistrust. That might owe something to the fact that their womenfolk seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that we’re all sophisticated, sensitive and next in line to the British throne but I’m getting off the point.
The point is that Messrs Curtis and Grant are between them almost entirely responsible for the global preconception of us as stammering, impotent shells of men and I, for one, firmly believe that is a conclusion at which the world should be allowed to arrive of its own accord.
Furthermore, here’s a theory for you. For every action, there is a reaction and films like Four Weddings have given rise to a slew of British movies, actors and directors who almost sexualise machismo. I’m talking cockney gangster testosterone splattered all over a pebble-dashed strip club in East Landaan and I’m thinking Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham, *shudder* Danny Dyer. So, in the same way that bullies aggress to mask some deep-seated insecurity and middle-aged men over-compensate for advancing decrepitude by buying “big willy” cars, one could argue that Danny Dyer is our logical reaction to Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant.
And I would suggest that to bear the responsibility for Danny Dyer is something for which nobody can fully be forgiven. Just putting that out there.
But I’m nit-picking. Apart from all that, I’d say Four Weddings is a pretty decent film. 7/10.