Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tribeca ’12: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

In 1932, the British economy was also rather depressed, but appearances had to be kept up, nonetheless.  A well-to-do widowed mother is determined to see her eldest daughter married in proper style, even if it kills the rest of her family in Donald Rice’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (promo clip here), which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.

Dolly Thatcham became re-acquainted with her rich, twittish fiancé during a grand tour of Albania.  She was most definitely on the rebound, following the end of her affair with Joseph Patten, a promising young academic.  He was somewhat self-centered, but there was real passion between them, as the audience sees in multiple flashbacks.  Her controlling mother could make the rest of the family sufficiently miserable on her own, but when the sullen Patten shows up at the house, it puts everyone further on edge.  The fact that the bride has locked herself in her dressing room with a bottle of rum hardly helps matters either.

Based on the novella by Julia Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group whose work has gained popularity in recent years, Cheerful Weather could be considered a lite beer version of Downton Abbey, but Rice and Mary Henley Magill’s adaptation clearly lacks Sir Julian’s delicious wit.  Of course, the presence of Elizabeth Montgomery in the rather thankless role of Thatcham’s overbearing mother further invites such comparisons.

Still, Cheerful Weather offers a number of memorable moments, largely courtesy of its snappy supporting cast.  Indeed, Mackenzie Crook and Fenella Woolgar steal scene after scene as the bickering Dakins, who largely reconcile through their shared distaste for his family.  Julian Wadham also adds a humane touch to the film as the not-as-dumb-as-he-looks bumbling Uncle Bob, while Zoe Tapper brings considerable allure and even a bit of depth to Evelyn Graham, Thatcham’s fortune hunting maid of honor.

Unfortunately, Cheerful Weather’s weak romantically-doomed leads undermine the audience’s investment in the actual wedding.  Looking rather dazed, even in the flashbacks, Felicity Jones’ turn as Thatcham is a pale shadow of Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary Grantham.  More baffling is the complete lack of screen presence displayed by Luke Treadaway as the morose Mr. Patten.

Frankly, it is hard to understand why Thatcham or Patten would pine for each other, but it is easy to see how this family would annoy the Dakins.  Yet, viewers can enjoy elements of the picture once they have shifted their sympathies accordingly.  An okay but hardly exceptional period drama, Cheerful Weather seems best suited for PBS’s Masterpiece.  For diehard Anglophiles, it screens again this Saturday (4/28) as this year’s Tribeca Film Festival enters its final weekend.