Four Weddings and a Funeral
Four Weddings and a Funeral, described by Variety as "the little film that could," was a simple story shot on a miniscule budget that seemingly came out of nowhere and surprised everyone. Its charm, warmth and distinctly British humor, plus a star-making turn from Hugh Grant in the lead role, made it a gigantic-though unexpected--box office hit.
Screenwriter Richard Curtis had been mostly writing material for his friend Rowan Atkinson's popular character, Mr. Bean. He came up with the idea for Four Weddings and a Funeral based on a real event that had happened to him some years earlier. While a guest at a friend's wedding, Curtis met a girl who wanted to spend the night with him, but he turned her down. It was a decision he constantly regretted and became the motivation for his screenplay.
The script bounced around London, eventually attracting the attention of Mike Newell. The director had worked steadily in British film and television, but he had not yet broken through to a mainstream international audience. "It was handed to me in my agent's office," said Newell of the Four Weddings and a Funeral script, "by a very bright and forthright assistant who, knowing that I said 'No' to everything, sort of hit me in the chest with it and said, 'You should do that.'"
Newell loved the screenplay and committed to the project. At first, he was concerned that the characters were all too privileged, which would alienate a wider audience. "But we went to work on that," said Newell, "and tried to make the social range of things broader."
Hugh Grant, like Mike Newell, had been working steadily in film and television for years, but he was still virtually unknown to American audiences. His roles so far in films like Maurice (1987), White Mischief (1987) and Bitter Moon (1992) were serious dramatic roles, and he wasn't thought of as a comic actor. That was about to change.
When Hugh Grant auditioned for Four Weddings, he thought he was too old for the part, but he loved the script. Screenwriter Richard Curtis thought Grant was too handsome. "He genuinely didn't want me to get it," said Grant. "He thought that the character should not be posh and should not be in any way good looking. He should be a kind of everyman."
Despite Curtis' misgivings, there was no question that he completely "got" the character of Charles. His reading of the lines were spot-on, nailing every tongue-tied delivery exactly the way Curtis had always envisioned. So, Grant got the part.
For the role of Carrie, the American girl with whom Charles is smitten, Mike Newell and the others auditioned what seemed like every actress in Hollywood. Newell had recently directed the critically acclaimed film Enchanted April (1992), which had earned an Oscar® nomination for Joan Plowright, so actresses everywhere were clamoring to work with him. Jeanne Tripplehorn was finally tapped to play Carrie, but she soon had to drop out of the film for personal reasons.
Andie MacDowell, the former model-turned-actress, happened to be in the U.K. doing publicity for Groundhog Day (1993) when she heard they were looking for a replacement. She read the script and organized a meeting with Mike Newell, Duncan Kenworthy and Richard Curtis. "Every once in awhile you'll read a script that will just blow your mind," said MacDowell. "This was one of those."
Everyone liked MacDowell, and she was offered the part. To do the film, she gave up a much higher profile film that would have paid her significantly more money. The other script, she said, was terrible and she would much rather be a part of something wonderful.
One of the film's greatest assets was its colorful and memorable supporting cast. The production team brought on fuchsia-haired Charlotte Coleman to play Charles' roommate Scarlett; Simon Callow and John Hannah as gay couple Gareth and Matthew; Kristin Scott Thomas as the cynical Fiona; and David Bower as Charles' deaf brother David. Richard Curtis' old friend Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean") was also brought in for a side-splitting cameo as a nervous priest presiding over his first wedding.
Four Weddings was originally set to go into production in 1992, but it wasn't ready to start until 1993. Because of the delay, the film's budget got drastically cut. Rather than abandoning the project, Kenworthy and Newell decided to move forward with it, knowing that getting something made was better than nothing. "We shook hands," said Kenworthy, "and said, 'it's going to be hard, but we'll do it together'." The film was shot in a mere 35 days.
When the film first previewed at a theater in Santa Monica, California, the cast and crew weren't sure that the film was funny at all. "The titles came up," said Mike Newell, "and nobody knew what to expect. And then about a minute and a half into the film this guy lets out this huge guffaw, and from then on it was the preview made in heaven."
The plan all along for Four Weddings and a Funeral was to open the film slowly through an enthusiastic word-of-mouth campaign since the budget was so small. Duncan Kenworthy opened it first in New York and Los Angeles, where it met with positive reviews. The Los Angeles Times called it "a tasty, sophisticated romp, a romantic comedy that wears its skill lightly, and garnishes its humor with style." Newsweek said, "Hugh Grant, who has graced the margins of many an English film, gets to step front and center in the romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral and proves himself a deft and debonair leading man."
Slowly but surely Four Weddings generated a major buzz among filmgoers, and audiences began to flock to the theaters to see the wry romantic comedy. It became a surprise hit, reaching number one at the box office, and eventually becoming the highest grossing British film in history. Its success finally catapulted Hugh Grant onto the A-list, and director Mike Newell was welcomed into the Hollywood fold.
Four Weddings and a Funeral was rewarded with Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, while the popular soundtrack sparked a hit for the band Wet Wet Wet with the cover song "Love Is All Around," which was number one on the British charts for 15 weeks. Hugh Grant and Mike Newell worked together just one more time on An Awfully Big Adventure (1995) the following year, but Grant worked several more times with writer Richard Curtis and Duncan Kenworthy. The three teamed together on two more successful films, Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003).
Producer: Tim Bevan, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Richard Curtis
Cinematography: Michael Coulter
Film Editing: Jon Gregory
Art Direction: Maggie Gray
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Cast: Hugh Grant (Charles), Andie MacDowell (Carrie), Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona), James Fleet (Tom), Simon Callow (Gareth), Charlotte Coleman (Scarlett).
by Andrea Passafiume