Something strange is going on in the era-perfect English home that serves as the setting for “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.” The characters and plot appear to be tailor-made for a quick period drama fix in a “Downton Abbey”–obsessed world. All the ingredients are in place: a tense bride sipping rum in her wedding gown, bickering relatives, a patronizing mother, a lovestruck former suitor. But beneath the 1930s clothes and the stiff-upper-lipness, “Cheerful Weather” isn’t quite the comfort food it first seems.
Based on the novel by Bloomsbury Group member Julia Strachey, director Donald Rice’s film (he also co-wrote with Mary Henely-Magill) can’t decide if it wants to please audiences or prick them. This push-pull attraction is best summed up by the casting of Felicity Jones as bride-to-be Dolly. Jones has the two-dimensional beauty of a print model, and her Dolly is never anything more than a cipher. Even in flashbacks to the golden summer that preceded the chilly scenes of her winter wedding, Dolly is a passive presence, able only to acquiesce to the demands of the day, even as she drags her feet in fulfilling her duties. After a while, one wonders why her ex-lover Joseph (Luke Treadaway) bothers trying to persuade her to run away with him. She hardly seems worth the effort.
Then again, Rice can’t really make the movie—which ends with an abrupt bit of verbal violence that hints at the slightly darker film lurking around cinematographer John Lee’s icy edges—seem worth the effort either. Just as the scenes build comedic momentum, something comes along to dampen our spirits (usually an unnecessary flashback). Fenella Woolgar and Mackenzie Crook are at the top of the list of terrific performers, nailing the huffy attitudes of slightly dismissed relatives forced by good manners to spend time with family members they loathe. And the “Downton Abbey” matriarch herself, Elizabeth McGovern, contributes a biting turn as Dolly’s mother, so intent on convincing those present that everything is perfect that she convince herself.
Always, though, Jones’ blank stare devours what happens around her. Her face wears the same expression when she makes love to Joseph for the first time as it does when he spills booze on her gown. Without an actor who can make Dolly the believable center of the whirlwind around her—instead of the motionless observer—“Cheerful Weather for a Wedding” is never more than a sometimes-puzzling period drama, destined for staying-in-Saturday-night viewings on Netflix.
Critic’s Score: C+
Directed by Donald Rice
Casting by Buffy Hall
Starring Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, Elizabeth McGovern