It’s quite bracing to watch Wedding Belles, shortly after catching up with the first series of Mistresses. Both focus on the ups and downs of a group of four female friends, but the latter is a glossy, glamorous romp compared to the gritty, crack-chic of the former. No surprise that it was co-written by Irvine Welsh, the filthy brain box behind Trainspotting… one of the most successful and popular British films in recent memory, and one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Belles brought him back into the orbit of Michelle Gomez, who had previously appeared in an adaptation of The Acid House, and Shirley Henderson, who appeared in Trainspotting as Spud’s girlf (“Shopping!” “Football!”). If I had any say in the matter, both of these women would be designated as national treasures, but I’m not sure the Scottish would appreciate me trying to co-opt their talent.
Gomez has absolutely exquisite bone-structure… but thankfully she hasn’t allowed her beauty to hamper her career as an extremely funny physical comedienne. She first came to my attention as the scene-stealing ‘Sue White’, in surreal medical dramedy Green Wing… which led me back to the previously overlooked Book Group, and then on to the criminally underrated Beeb sitcom Feel the Force. She’s the sort of performer who can make me laugh just by stepping over some crime-scene tape… and when she motions as if to head-butt random old ladies in a church, or line-dances around her bedroom in a bustier, I can’t help crushing on her. She is fierce… so no surprise she was cast as Kate in the most recent RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew… but she also has the skill to sell the quieter beats in Wedding Belles, which make it such a heartbreaking and hilarious ride. She can play it big, or she can play it small, and most importantly of all, she can slip seamlessly between the two.
Henderson has also been a “shrew” in her time, having starred in the BBC’s ShakespeaRe-Told update of the same story. For some reason it’s always funny to see short people raging against much taller people, and watching Henderson tear up the scenery and bully poor David Mitchell was a particular delight. She is perhaps best known to international audiences, rather bizarrely, as ‘Moaning Myrtle’ in the Harry Potter films… I say “bizarrely” because Henderson was well into her 30s when she was cast as the ghostly schoolgirl. Apparently she dug the “eternal youth” idea, because I’ve seen trailers for a new TV show (May Contain Nuts) in which she tries to pass herself off as her own eleven year old daughter (!?), to sit an important exam. Her second most recognisable role would probably be ‘Jude’, in the Bridget Jones films, which are great comfort-viewing… but in Belles she gives a fantastically spiky performance, and seems to relish every opportunity to spit out one of my favourite curses: “Get tae f-ck!”
And an honourable mention should also go to Mabel Aitken, who appears as a nurse in Belles. She had a much larger role in Annie Griffin’s Coming Soon, alongside David Walliams, but since then has only been spotted in supporting roles, sadly.
Overall, I can’t understand why this film was never given a full theatrical release, but there’s no shame in going straight-to-TV I suppose. I’ve watched my old VHS copy a good few times, but I’m glad I have it on DVD now, for the deleted scenes and extra interviews. A number of reviews suggested that the main characters were simply Renton and his pals in drag, but that’s clearly nonsense. Even if they are a bit rowdy at times, there’s far more compassion and understanding shared between the leads here… suggesting that they actually, y’know, like each other as people, rather than simply share a drug habit. There is talk in the extras about a series spinning off from the film, and I can certainly see that having legs, in the Mistresses mould… although you’d probably have trouble getting that stella cast back together again for long enough to knock out six or more episodes.