Going to the chapel: the cast of Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994
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I feel it in my fingers: The Reunion on Radio 4

An edition of The Reunion reunited cast and crew of Four Weddings and a Funeral, 20 years on.

The Reunion
Radio 4

An edition of The Reunion (Sundays, 11.15am) marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Four Weddings and a Fu­neral. Its writer-producer, Richard Curtis, its director, Mike Newell, and its stars Kristin Scott Thomas and James Fleet were amiable but rarely gushing when recalling the production of one of the highest-grossing British comedies yet made, filmed in just six weeks “in a variety of fields” for under £5m. Curtis says he felt compelled to plough through 17 drafts of the script after suffering 72 weddings in five years.

Among the many things the production had in its arsenal was an “aristocracy co-ordinator”, Amber Rudd (now the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye), who “knew a lot of dukes and earls” willing to lend authenticity to the church scenes.

When the film came out in the UK following an enthusiastic response in the United States, I was doing work experience on a north London free sheet whose film critic approached movies as a branch of Marxist socio-economic theory. To my excited inquiry about the film, he replied, “If you like your brew in a mug, then it won’t be your cup of tea.” But few others mustered genuinely umbraged social comment about the upper-crust bohemianism of Four Weddings (even Tom Paulin on Late Review declined into a burble of approbation).

“Were there ever any doubts about the posh theme?” asked the presenter Sue MacGregor, in a tone that suggested in truth she couldn’t really get behind accusing Four Weddings of being self-satisfied, unaware of its privilege and only all right if you’ve got the money.

There was a polite shrug from Curtis, who mentioned the easy, leavening presence of the classless John Hannah and the pivotal funeral in the industrial estate. He could also have pointed out that, crucially, those were good times economically: 1994 fell in the middle of a long boom and it was OK to be well off – any guilt could be rendered comically. Besides, just consider the long, distinguished cinematic history of escapism. Four Weddings succeeds where its hundreds of imitators have failed, because it is a romantic comedy about those two things: romance and comedy.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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