At the outset, director Donald Rice’s feature film debut, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, seems rife with possibilities. The ingredients for a British period dramedy can be ticked off a list: An ensemble of eccentric family members and friends? Check. A conflicted bride? Check. An old suitor? Check. A hapless groom? Double check.
With all these elements at his disposal, Rice could have taken any number of turns with the film, adapted from a 1932 novella by Julia Strachey. Diehard Anglophiles hoping for something akin to a complex ensemble piece like Gosford Park, or the romance and levity of Four Weddings and a Funeral, or the unrequited love found in almost any Jane Austen film adaptation, will be disappointed. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding tacks an entirely different course, resulting in a languid film that fizzles from the start.
Set in the English countryside in 1932, the impending nuptials of Dolly Thatcham (Felicity Jones) and Owen Bigham (James Norton) have sent the household of the bride-to-be’s mother (Elizabeth McGovern) into a tizzy. The already emotional day is compounded further with the arrival of Dolly’s ex-lover, Joseph (Luke Treadaway).
The film unfolds slowly with a seemingly nervous bride alternating between retching and drinking straight from a bottle of rum the morning of her wedding. As the guests arrive downstairs, only Joseph is greeted with coolness from Mrs. Thatcham. Like any mother of the bride, she won’t tolerate any nonsense that may ruin her daughter’s day.
As the ceremony nears, Joseph tries to see Dolly alone, but she refuses to see him. He spends much of the film sulking in the bathroom or staring out windows. Dolly also gazes out her bedroom window, with the former lovers recalling memories of last summer. As if the audience needed any help with these transitions, the flashback scenes are shot in warm, rich tones, as opposed to the bleakness of the manor in winter. The contrast is too distracting and largely unnecessary.
Caught between Dolly and Joseph is cuckold-to-be Owen, who has very little screen time and only serves to move the plodding story along. He’s from a good family and is so well-mannered that when he encounters Dolly and Joseph in a heated situation, all he can manage to say is “sorry.”
McGovern gives a decent performance as the meddling Mrs. Thatcham, but the other actors can’t seem to plumb the depths of their characters’ supposed emotional upheaval. Do Joseph and Dolly really love each other, or is it a case of wanting the impossible?
There are too many characters in the film, and Rice could have focused less on the relatives and cousins who add nothing to the story, and concentrated more on developing the main characters and interesting smaller roles like Dolly’s best friend, Evelyn (Zoë Tapper). She delivers a number of tasty zingers throughout the film, but the audience never really gets to know her.
Despite its potential, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding lacks drama, comedy or emotional heft. Not much happens, and when it finally does, the audience hasn’t connected with any of the characters, finding it hard to care about which man earns Dolly’s heart.
Director: Donald Rice
Writers: Mary Henely Magill & Donald Rice
Starring: Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, Elizabeth McGovern
Release Date: Dec. 7 (New York); Dec. 14 (Los Angeles)