Made for television in the U.K. but getting a U.S. theatrical release, “The Wedding Gift” fits the general description of what TV viewers have come to know as disease-of-the-week movies, although it shines above that genre with its wit, offbeat charm and understated pathos. Even so, prospects of B.O. recovery are probably limited to whatever word-of-mouth treatment can offer, with video likely to be a more natural medium.
Based on a true story, pic relies almost entirely on strong central performances by Julie Walters (“Educating Rita”) and Jim Broadbent (“Life Is Sweet”), a couple very much in love but with a very serious problem.
Diana (Walters) is suffering from an unknown, unexplained and deteriorative disease that causes her periodic pain as well as the inability to use her limbs and occasional blackouts. Doctors remain baffled but unwilling to admit they’re stumped, as with all doctors in such movies.
While the couple deals with their plight by virtue of their humor and considerable affection, Diana anticipates dying and, through happenstance, comes upon the idea of trying to find someone to replace her once she’s gone — in this case, a blind novelist (Sian Thomas) with whom Deric (Broadbent) feels an immediate affinity and who may be able to further his own literary aspirations.
From that description, this undoubtedly sounds like a three-hankie affair, bearing some resemblance to a recent NBC movie, “The Subtitute Wife,” which starred Farrah Fawcett.
Much to his credit, director Richard Loncraine doesn’t butter up the corn. He and writer Jack Rosenthal manage to bring a distinct feel to the proceedings by looking on these people through such a detached lens — shunning the more maudlin and obvious approach to which the storyline lends itself.
On the down side, Diana’s condition isn’t exactly pleasant (a problem also faced by a movie like “Lorenzo’s Oil”), and the filmmakers do a rather slapdash job developing Deric’s budding interest in the writer or his pangs of guilt about those feelings.
There’s nevertheless much to savor in the performances, with Walters offering just the right combination of fear and strength as the stricken woman, while Broadbent captures the determination of a man who can’t accept his inevitable loss.
Pic was originally titled “Wide-Eyed and Legless” when it aired in the U.K., perhaps more appropriate than its current Hallmark-type handle, given its quirky , bittersweet tone.