Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

by | Dec 4, 2012 | - 1 - Gain Stories

When a young Englishman encounters love-at-first-sight for the first time, he attempts to pursue its ultimate satisfaction—union with the woman he feels might be his soul mate.

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Richard Curtis

Director: Mike Newell

Production Co.(s): Working Title Films; PolyGram Filmed Entertainment; Channel Four Films

The Story on the Screen

In Four Weddings and a Funeral, the main character, Charles, is a young man whose social world revolves around a group of close friends, all of whom are similar in age and none of whom is married. We-the-audience learn early on that he is what one character describes as a "serial monogamist," having dated many women but attached himself to none. And in a best-man wedding toast at the first of four weddings presented in the story, he confesses a sincere envy for people who are able to make a lifelong commitment to each other. In so doing, he reveals a personal longing to find someone to whom he himself would be willing to make that commitment—that is, a soul mate.

Charles is a young man whose world revolves around a group of close friends none of whom is married—and who suddenly finds himself smitten with a chance acquaintance, Carrie.

At the reception following the first wedding, Charles is struck for the first time in his life with the experience of love at first sight, the object of which is an American wedding guest named Carrie. Although his unfamiliarity with the feeling throws him off balance, he does what he can to understand it and to pursue its satisfaction, foregoing an overnight stay at a castle owned by the wealthiest of his friends so that he can afford himself the chance of running into Carrie at a pub where they have, coincidentally, each booked a room for the night.

Their meeting at the pub turns quickly romantic and results in soul-satisfying lovemaking that leaves him psychically breathless. And when Carrie departs the next morning (to go back to America), he seems bereft and filled with a sense of great loss. For her part, Carrie too seems to sense the loss of something special—suggesting that the two characters share a soul-mate connection that neither fully appreciates.

After two brief and lovely encounters at other friends' weddings, Carrie introduces Charles to her fiance—a wealthy Scottish brute who does not deserve her.

When Charles meets Carrie again at a second wedding—that of his friends Bernard and Lydia (whose romance was spawned at the first wedding)—he is elated, full of the joy that comes with a soul-mate-like reunion. But his joy is turned to devastating sadness when Carrie introduces him to her fiancé, Hamish, a boorish and very wealthy Scotsman. The day turns absolutely hellish for him when he finds himself seated at a reception table populated by his ex-girlfriends. But it is the blow to his hopes of romantic union with Carrie that defines the day. When he sees her depart the hotel in a limousine with Hamish, he feels his loss deepen. And when she returns shortly thereafter, having dropped off Hamish at the airport, he is nobly accepting of his fate but eagerly accepting of the offer to ride with her to his hotel—and to join her in her own room for a nightcap.

Again, the attraction between them rules the night, and when he leaves her half-sleeping in bed the next morning, they both sense the bittersweet loss in his departure.

In the run-up to Carrie's wedding, she and Charles share tender moments that render their missed connection all the more painful.

In the lead-up to the third wedding—Carrie's to Hamish—Charles and Carrie are able to share tender moments of friendly joy while shopping for her wedding dress. But over coffee in a café, he confesses his sense of disappointment that they never got together, thereby making himself vulnerable to heartache. And before they separate completely for the day, he lets her know that he thinks he might be in love with her—an admission that seems to affect her deeply and suggest that she is not as certain as she might be of her decision to marry Hamish.

When the wedding day arrives, Charles shows up just in time to hear Carrie utter the fateful "I do" that appears to erect the ultimate barrier to his goal. And all seems lost. But the sudden death one of his friends, Gareth, rouses him and turns his attention outside himself—to matters of life and love in the large.

The combined losses of Carrie and Gareth cause Charles to rethink his approach to relationships and to entertain the idea of matrimony to someone he does not see as a soul mate—his former girlfriend, Henrietta. And the last of the four wedding ceremonies is theirs. But when Carrie shows up, having left Hamish after a short and unpleasant marriage, Charles realizes that the chance of uniting with a soul mate might still exist—but only if he does not go through with the wedding to Henrietta.

With Carrie no longer available and the weight of advancing life in the forefront of his mind, Charles agrees to marry a girl who his friends know is wrong for him. But when circumstances require him to state clearly whom he loves, the wedding ends in fury and the possibility of happiness springs to life.

In the end, Charles chooses pursuit of his soul mate over the compromise that Henrietta represents. And in the aftermath of the ugly consequences in the church, he and Carrie commit to each other after all.

Behind the Scenes

The issue that strongly pervades Four Weddings and a Funeral is that of "finding one's soul mate," where "finding" implies not only discovering but securing a relationship with "the one." It is represented not only in the conversations and actions of the characters but in the very settings for the scenes, nearly all of which orbit a marriage ceremony. And the storytellers appear to condone the pursuit of a soul mate as a worthy enterprise; therefore, the proposition of the story can be aptly stated:

  • One should attempt to find and secure (gain union with) his soul mate, because success in the attempt will provide him with the deep and satisfying joy that true love brings.

In this case, Charles succeeds in finding and securing (gaining) a relationship with Carrie and experiences the elation that such love brings. (Their kiss of commitment is punctuated by a rainstorm lightning bolt.) And because we-the-audience can identify easily with someone who pursues "true love," we are pleased with his success; therefore, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a clear example of a succeed/pleased story. Since neither Charles nor Carrie suffers wounds from their own actions along the way, it may also be said to have a happy ending.

Aspects to Admire Especially

Four Weddings and a Funeral stands as shining example of a well-told story and illustrates three important aspects of the grok approach:

  • The presence of the issue in the inciting incident
  • The necessary coupling of intent and opportunity
  • The roles of the core ensemble characters in providing perspectives on the issue

The Issue Within the Inciting Incident

In Four Weddings and a Funeral, the inciting incident occurs the moment that Charles sees Carrie in the church at the first wedding. Something about her catches his attention immediately and takes him out of the moment, which defines the "at first sight" component of "love at first sight." But his inability to take his eyes off her at the reception afterward speaks to the depths of the connection. He is not a lothario having spotted his next target; he is a young man whose world is rocked by something new that he does not understand.

The Coupling of Intent and Opportunity

From the moment that Charles experiences love at first sight with Carrie, he is possessed by the deeply rooted longing to connect with her as a soul mate. And he pursues the possibility of the connection at every opportunity. But circumstances beyond his control dictate when he is and is not able to effect the pursuit, largely by removing her from his world for long periods of time.

The lesson from a grok approach standpoint is that the intent of the main character cannot be executed unless the opportunity exists to do so. In some stories, the opportunity is fabricated by the main character himself. But in others, he must lie in wait until the Story Gods grant him the chance to act upon his intent.

Charles, in this case, does very little to afford himself the opportunity to pursue his intent. He does not follow Carrie to America, and they appear not to communicate at all when they are apart. But he takes every opportunity when it is granted to him, even making himself vulnerable by admitting to Carrie that he thinks he loves her when he knows that her impending marriage will make his love moot.

Roles of the Core Ensemble

Although Four Weddings and a Funeral involves a main character (Charles) whose intent drives clearly the story, it also involves a masterfully crafted core ensemble of characters who carry out their assignments very nicely. Most of the core ensemble may be said to consist of allies to Charles, but it also includes a well-defined opposing character in the person of Henrietta, who does not oppose Charles directly in his intent but represents the temptation to compromise that he must ultimately face. And none of the core ensemble members is included merely to populate the story with another moving body.

As Chapters 2 and 10 of Discovering the Soul of Your Story reveal, each member of the core ensemble may be used to shine the light of his or her own perspective on the issue of the story, thereby illuminating it from a different pro-or-con angle and contributing to its thematic declaration. Four Weddings and a Funeral illustrates this principle very well, because its core ensemble members represent alternative views regarding the finding and securing of a soul mate.

Fiona, for example, represents the supporting view, because behind her high-brow cynicism lies the long-held feeling that Charles is "the one" for her, even though he is oblivious to her longing. Likewise, the death of their mutual friend Gareth exposes the deep love between him and his partner, Matthew—and again supports the idea that soul mates exist and are worth seeking. Charles' wealthy and inept friend Tom, on the other hand, represents the opposing view, not because he is against the concept of soul mates, but because he believes that simple companionship constitutes a sufficient ideal. The opposing view, as noted above, is also represented by Henrietta, the girl whom Charles makes plans to marry after Carrie (the true object of his desire) appears to be out of reach. And the very existence of Henrietta represents the temptation to compromise and abandon the search.

For More Information

For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).

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