4 Weddings and a Funeral: A TV show worth committing to
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2020
Richard Curtis’ 4 Weddings and a Funeral is one of the definitive rom-coms from the genre’s 1990s heyday. It not only made a floppy-haired, stammering heartthrob out of Hugh Grant, but it did so in an ensemble piece that dares to mix grief and heartbreak with flirting and Best Man speeches. Looking back at it now, it’s a formative, influential masterclass in screenwriting – but it’s also dated, giving us a snapshot of middle-class, white Britain, albeit one that’s served up with a self-awareness and populated by characters who are subversively flawed.
Fast forward 24 years and turning 4 Weddings and a Funeral into a TV series wasn’t at the top of anyone’s to-do list, but Hulu’s unexpected update succeeds at changing what needs to be changed, even if it keeps other things disappointingly the same.
The show introduces us to Maya (Natalie Emmanuel), a young communications director for a New York senatorial campaign, who receives a wedding invitation from a college schoolmate now living in London. Heading to England, she reconnects with her old friends and ends up in the midst of their personal crises. That includes, primarily, Duffy (John Reynolds), a Latin teacher who has been in love with Maya for far too long. But while their ocean-crossing romance – complete with floppy-haired, bumbling male – recalls Mike Newell’s classic film, 4 Weddings has the smarts to widen the focus and build on the original’s ensemble approach: we also meet the well-off interior designer, Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), who is the ex of Kash (Nikesh Patel), an unhappy investment banker. Kash, meanwhile, is being pushed into arranged dates by his parents, supported by his best friend, Basheer (Guz Khan). Also in the mix are Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith), who finds himself heartbroken by Gemma (Zoe Boyle), Ainsley’s neighbour who ends up going on reality TV show Love Chalet.
If that sounds like a lot to cram in, it is, and it takes half of the miniseries for 4 Weddings and a Funeral to work out how to balance all of them – there’s an initial period where everyone comes across as the worst people ever with no depth or warmth, not helped by the fact that they’re all relatively wealthy, giving the whole thing the feel of a glossy magazine. But the cast are uniformly excellent, and by the time the show hits its stride, they manage to bring out nuances in the most unexpected places.
Guz Khan steals the whole show as the deceptively sweet Basheer, Alex Jennings as Maya’s conservative MP boss does fantastic work at navigating politics and his private life, especially when paired with Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who’s clearly enjoying himself as the very out Tony, Ainsley’s interior design assistant. Brandon Mychal Smith digs deep into Craig’s relationship with his daughter, while Nathalie Emmanuel and Nikesh Patel gradually emerge as the couple you were secretly rooting for all along. John Reynolds does bitter well, but the more time we spend away from his character, the better the show becomes.
There are problems, of course, and they mostly come down to tone: the series can’t decided whether it wants to be a slavish love letter to Richard Curtis or a knowing parody of his work. The result is a bit of both, lining up every cliche imaginable into a checklist of Richard Curtis tropes. But while you sigh and point out each box being ticked, the show also manages to be self-aware enough to get away with a lot of it – it takes itself seriously enough to get you invested, but not seriously enough that you can mock the cheesiness that’s always on display. A recurring gimmick of wedding invitations on screen to divide the story into chapters begins as tiresome but, somewhere along the way, suddenly realises its own ridiculousness. How much of that is the Mindy Kaling effect, it’s hard to say, but what the show is very good at is keeping you watching one more episode, even when you think you’re done with it. While many binge-worthy box sets are crafted to keep you hanging off a cliff, this dubious rom-com that nobody asked for actually turns out to be worth committing to – if only you can get through the rough patches. A glossy magazine, yes, but a surprisingly enjoyable page-turner.
4 Weddings and a Funeral is available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on iOS, Android, Apple TV and Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, as an add-on subscription to your existing account.