Lord Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) passes away and, unable to split his vast estate between his two families, his wife and three daughters are ousted from their palatial mansion by their half-brother John (James Fleet) and his vile wife Fanny (Harriet Walter), and are forced to considerably downsize their opulent lifestyles. Hope, it seems, arrives in the forms of Fanny’s reserved brother Edward (Hugh Grant) and the dashing Mr. Willoughby (Greg Wise), who each take a shining to two of the Dashwood sisters (Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet).
Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant seem to be a match made in heaven. So far they’ve collaborated on three features (Notting Hill and Love, Actually being the other, equally enjoyable films that, for some reason or another, aren’t on the List), and Grant’s lovably foppish dithering perfectly fits into Curtis’ skill with a subtle put-down or throwaway comment.
Here, Grant plays Charles, terminally lost amidst a sea of acquaintances tying the knot, swinging from one wedding to the next seemingly every weekend. Perpetually late, lost and underprepared, Charles is a creation that, if you don’t know someone just like him, it’s probably you in your circle of friends. And it is this circle, just like in Notting Hill, that makes the film what it is. The supporting characters in any film have the potential to be more layered and interesting than the audience ciphers required as the leads. If need be they can even be people you don’t overly like or agree with, but fortunately here they’re a wonderful bunch, from Kristin Scott Thomas’ heartbreakingly brittle Fiona, John Hannah’s dependable Matthew, Simon Callow’s enigmatic, irascible Gareth and of course James Fleet’s hopelessly wealthy Tom, who trumps Charles for the worst best man come wedding number 3 (sample speech quote: “When Bernard told me he was getting engaged to Lydia, I congratulated him because all his other girlfriends were such complete dogs. Although may I say how delighted we are to have so many of them here today”).
Often hilarious and at times genuinely touching, not the least in Matthew’s moving elegy at the titular funeral, the script is also so much swearier than you remember (“fuck fuckety-fuck”), and deals with all the problems one might encounter at a wedding – drunken bride, boorish guests, horrendous dresses, improbable hats and inappropriate songs (I Will Survive, at a wedding?) as well as the more unusual scenarios, like being sat at a table full of your former partners, or being trapped in the room the happy couple are consummating their vows in.
The only problems occur are the horrendously cliché rain-soaked finale (“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed”) and the casting of Andie MacDowell as Charles’ American dream girl, who is only actually desirable the less he gets to know her in my opinion.
Choose film 7/10
The closest the UK will ever have to a Pixar, and to be honest not that far off really, Bristol-based Aardman Animations have spent years toiling away at another masterpiece, this time based on the first in a series of ridiculous yet thoroughly entertaining books by British author Gideon Defoe. Just like Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and everything else Aardman has ever left a plasticine thumbprint on, Pirates is imbued with a timeless sense of humour in a world that almost – almost – makes sense, but is always hilarious.
We follow the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant on the finest form he’s been in years) and his rag-tag band of misfits (including Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jensen) along with their definitely-not-a-parrot mascot Polly as they set out to win the much coveted Pirate of the Year award, against rivals Lenny Henry, Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven (whose voice really annoyed me as I couldn’t place it for the entire film). The only problem is… the Pirate Captain is a pretty useless pirate, with every plundering attempt ending in failure. Fortunately, a chance encounter with a repressed, desperate Charles Darwin (David Tennant) leads to all manner of escapades, including entering a scientific competition and a run-in with a furious Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton, half the cast are Harry Potter actors).
If I have to find a flaw, it’s that everything moves by so damn quickly. Every character is a brilliant creation, yet few are on screen long enough to fully appreciate them, and often the rapid progression of the plot gives a feeling that some jokes are left by the wayside, 88 minutes long is nowhere near enough, but one feels the animators are happier their wrists were not strained further. The one character who really should have more screen time is the scene-stealing, self-subtitling monkey.
Choose film 8/10