I had an opportunity to indulge my love of Charlotte Coleman (who died unexpectedly in 2001 of an asthma attack at the age of 33) this morning because “Four Weddings & A Funeral” was on TNT as I was puttering through an hour and a cup of coffee between the gym and walking to the F train (to go Christmas tree shopping in Park Slope).
I was first transfixed by Charlotte in an episode of “Inspector Morse” in which she played a troubled teen. It was the kind of supporting performance you sometimes see where afterwards you say, “Who the fuck was that?” (“That’s Marmalade Atkins!” my ex-wife exclaimed at the time.) Her last scene in that Morse episode contains the most indelible, inconsolable, forlorn and blood-curdling cry of “Mummmmmyyyy…!” ever heard on screen. I can still hear it. After that, I tracked her down in all sorts of odd little movies and British televsion shows, including her star turn in the miniseries based on Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.”
As for “Four Weddings,” I never saw it when it first came out for the same reasons most people still scorn it today — because I was sure it was lightweight, cute, sentimental … like “Friends”-in-London. But once I finally saw it, on TV, I realized it wasn’t really any of those things. It’s funny how things acquire reputations for what they are supposed to be, or superficially appear to be, even if they’re not really that at all, and how those reputations dictate people’s reactions just the same.
I’m not here to say “Four Weddings” is the best movie ever made, but it is smart, well written, very well acted and surprisingly unsentimental for a mainstream romantic comedy. The major story arc is kind of dumb, sure, but hopscotching across peak ritual gatherings is not a bad animating idea, and the movie’s milieu — the easy, drunken, familial camaraderie of an intimate group of post-college friends — is captured as it usually unfolds in life, without a lot of questions or explanations. I think that’s a cool achievement, and a rare thing to see in the movies. So I think it more than earns its rightfully famous funeral speech (the one with the Auden poem), which devastates me every time.
And, of course, it has Charlotte Coleman, wrapped in a sheet, in shades, in a cocktail dress, in sneakers, hungover, and holding a champagne flute, radiating undeniable waves of delectability from the margins of every frame.