Film Review: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Strictly recommended for the besotted Anglophile set who revel in watching endless versions of the privileged set enjoying their privileges.

Based on a 1932 novel by Julia Strachey, the niece of Lytton Strachey and therefore a member of the fabled Bloomsbury Group, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a very “Masterpiece Theatre” sort of affair which will appeal to the kind of “Downton Abbey” fans who just can’t seem to get enough of country estates peopled by the rich, indolent and gossipy and, of course, a retinue of nosy servants.

Dolly (Felicity Jones) is about to be married to Owen (James Norton), but is largely AWOL during her nuptial preparations, hiding out in her bedroom with a handy liquor bottle. Various guests and family members arrive, including Joseph (Luke Treadaway), with whom she had a fling the summer before. He’s desperate to see her to rekindle their flame, but there are so many people in the way, including Dolly’s pesky sister Kitty (Ellie Kendrick, trying like the dickens to steal the show), her imperious, graciously impervious mother (Elizabeth McGovern), and Millman (Sophie Stanton), the omniscient housekeeper.

We’ve seen it all before and far more interestingly done, as in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things and, of course, Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. (This reviewer confesses to not being able to sit through the overly self-conscious “Downton Abbey”; there are just too many menials continually gasping, “Milady!”) The problem here is that these bright young things aren’t particularly bright, or sufficiently individualized. The girls are primarily brunette, perky little things full of sass and less than dazzling bon mots—although Jones tries to convey some bitter depth—while the men are nattily groomed, interchangeable mannequins. And then there’s a plethora of crusty codgers and old, refined biddies making their own winsome mischief on the side. There’s also a perfect little brat of a boy who continually sets off unsettling bombs and is definitely in need of a time out—or far worse.

Perhaps the charm of the novel, which no less than (a probably prejudiced) Virginia Woolf praised, was too elusive to capture on film. Treadaway works hard to telegraph desperate, thwarted passion, but doesn’t seem able to pierce through the genteel, seen-it-all-before miasma that enfolds this film. He and Jones fatally lack romantic chemistry, and the symbol of their thwarted love is, of all things, a tortoise. McGovern, as is sometimes the case with American actors playing Brits, is so overly Brit it hurts; she makes the Lady, Greer Garson herself, seem like Rosie Perez by comparison. Wonderful Fenella Woolgar, so good in Bright Young Things, barely makes an impression here.

Technical aspects are adequate, but there are jarring anachronisms at times with the costumes and hair. Stanton, in particular, looks very 2012.