chapter  5
19 Pages

THE BRITISH ROMANTIC COMEDY

The decade from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s saw a sustained period of success for British cinema, marked by the release of a series of romantic comedies. These films shared certain defining features which proved a winning formula for global success: the production company Working Title, the writer Richard Curtis and the actor Hugh Grant. Prior

to this period, British cinema had not been associated with the romantic comedy genre in any significant way. There had been isolated examples of romcoms, yet not the same sustained genre cycles that characterised Hollywood output. Four Weddings and A Funeral’s international box office

success in 1994 was the beginning of the decade of the British romcom, being followed by the success of Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, About A Boy and Love Actually. Wimbledon in 2004 proved to be one Working Title romcom too many, receiving a critical panning and being a box office disappoint-

ment. Tim Bevan, the co-founder of Working Title, announced that ‘ … it’s safe to say there is a certain sort of romantic comedy that we would be stupid to go out and make again. You have to evolve’ (Solomons and Smith, 2004), signalling the exhaustion of the production company’s

take on the romcom formula. The Working Title romcom follows a very conventional format,

making it a very marketable commodity as a genre film, both at home

and on a global basis. Indeed, the adherence to genre conventions has been cited as one of the reasons for its success, making it easy to attract

funding, and to market and to distribute it. Annabelle Honness Roe defines this genre cycle as centring ‘on the coupling of a bumbling, ineffectual British man with a beautiful, successful American woman within the upper middle-class milieu of an idealised, idyllic Britain and

it features quick verbal humour often derived from transgressing particularly British social conventions’ (2009: 82). Honness Roe is referring here to Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Wimbledon, yet the definition can be stretched and adapted to incorporate the other Working Title romcoms,

which employ the same settings, representations and humour, with different central pairings. Bridget Jones, in the eponymous films, plays the Hugh Grant role as the ineffectual yet sympathetic central character with a disastrous love life who is rewarded for her innate goodness with

a responsible, sensitive and desirable partner. Working Title has become the most successful and enduring British

film production company, having made a name for itself in producing films that seek to appeal to a transatlantic market, in contrast to its very parochial early output. Setting up in 1984, its breakthrough film was My

Beautiful Laundrette (1985), the first of many collaborations with Channel 4. The film was typical of the early output of Working Title, in being a low-budget (£650 000) film, that used realistic British settings and featured characters that were very much on the margins of British society.

The film was distinctively British in its style and narrative, addressing difficult contemporary themes, such as racism and sexuality. The company changed gear in the early 1990s, when it became part of Polygram, which subsequently was taken over by Universal, and thus became part

of a Hollywood studio. Working Title now had access to all the resources and support that such a major player could offer, and there was a subsequent shift in the nature of its output. The films tended to target an international audience rather than a distinctively British one, as can

be seen from the casting decisions, with major Hollywood stars broadening the potential target audience: Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings, Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, Renee Zellweger in the Bridget Jones movies.