Four Weddings and a Funeral at 30: 'We didn't pander to American tastes'

30 years after making a star of Hugh Grant, its cinematographer looks back at the making of the seminal British comedy.

Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant in 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Gramercy Pictures/Everett Collection)
Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant starred in 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral which went on to be a global phenomenon. (Gramercy Pictures/Everett Collection)

On 13 May, 1994, the premiere for a small British romcom took place that would take over the world, and put a little known actor called Hugh Grant on the global stage. Thirty years on, Yahoo UK looks back at Four Weddings and a Funeral with its director of photography, Michael Coulter.

When director Mike Newell worked with cinematographer Michael Coulter on 1985 Anthony Hopkins movie The Good Father, they always talked about collaborating again, but it had never quite happened.

So Coulter was delighted when he received the script for a British romcom called Four Weddings and a Funeral while shooting a film in LA and arranged a call with his old colleague.

“I can’t remember if we had emails,” laughs Coulter now, “but I got — and liked — the script. [Mike] always reminds me that I told him on the phone from a beach somewhere in California ‘We’ve got six weeks to make this film.’ I think he liked that — the attitude of let’s get it done somehow.”

Mike Newell (right) won the Best Film Bafta for Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Gramercy Pictures/Everett Collection)
Director Mike Newell, right, won the Best Film Bafta for Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Gramercy Pictures/Everett Collection)

With a budget of £3.5m and cast of unknowns apart from US star Andie MacDowell, nobody expected a whole load from Four Weddings and A Funeral. The script was by Richard Curtis, who had had huge success with his TV writing, but whose cinema work amounted to Jeff Goldblum/Emma Thompson flop, The Tall Guy.

But with actors ready to break out — “I think they realised we were all in it together, so that’s how it was, everybody pulled together,” says Coulter — great jokes, proper romance and quintessentially English summer vibes, it became a global juggernaut, earning a mammoth worldwide gross of a little less than £200m, one of the biggest British hits of all-time.

Read more: Four Weddings and a Funeral voted most rewatchable British film

It was especially successful in the US, but apart from the presence of MacDowell, Coulter doesn’t remember them thinking about the audience across the Atlantic.

“I don’t remember having any conversations about pandering to American tastes,” he explains. “If they’d thought about the American audiences there might not have been so many 'f***ity f***s'.”

James Fleet, John Hannah, Simon Callow: Charlotte Coleman, Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott-Thomas and David Bower - the cast of Four Weddings. (Alamy)
James Fleet, John Hannah, Simon Callow, Charlotte Coleman, Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott-Thomas and David Bower – the cast of Four Weddings And A Funeral. (Alamy)

Still, the smallish budget made them have to think cleverly about how to pull off what needed to look like extravagant and lavish weddings which often featured up to 200 extras (“It was like an army on the march,” laughs Coulter).

“There’s a shot preceding the Scottish wedding (the bulk of which was actually shot in Surrey) of a loch with rain falling and a pan up to the mountains,” he remembers. “That was my wife and I. We had a little cottage outside Glasgow and she and I went up and we shot that together. I loaded the magazine, sent it off to the lab, all that stuff.”

Four Weddings and a Funeral would catapult most of its cast into the Hollywood a-list. (centre). (Alamy)

“There was another very low-tech thing we did,” he continues. “At the fourth wedding where Anna Chancellor socks Hugh in the jaw and he falls back onto the floor and we’re above him? We did that with the camera on a piece of rope. I don’t think we could afford to have a crane.”

Throughout, Coulter and his team, as well as Newell, had to be on their toes and very well-organised. When a piece of the A41 between Watford and Aylesbury was closed because they were resurfacing, the production were able to bag it for the car gag where Hugh Grant and Charlotte Coleman’s characters miss their turn-off (though that was done by stunt drivers).

“Mike was a real general, he got us through it,” says Coulter. “We had a scene with seven actors and we had about 30 minutes to wrap,” explains Coulter. “It was the scene where they’re watching the dancing. It was like, ‘My God, how are we going to do this?’ Mike said, ‘Everyone just stand in the doorway, we’ll make sure we can see you.’ And it’s in the film. They’re all looking past camera, rather than doing it the traditional way of two shots and wide shots.”

But when the film hit big, it took everyone who’d been involved by surprise.

“I don’t think anyone realised what they were getting into,” admits Coulter. “We genuinely did not think it would be the film it became.”

Elizabeth Hurley and Hugh Grant (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
Elizabeth Hurley with Hugh Grant at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Tom Wargacki/WireImage)

The cinematographer went on to work with Curtis (and Grant) again on Notting Hill and Love Actually. “[Four Weddings…] was the first time I’ve worked with Hugh, I’ve worked with him on three other movies since and I think he’s a super guy,” says Coulter. “I hope he thinks the same about me.”

He’s never heard rumours about a possible sequel (the film was turned into a 2019 TV miniseries by Mindy Kaling and there was a charity short for Comic Relief). “I never ever did,” he admits. “In a way, you could say those three romantic comedies of Richard’s are unofficial sequels.”

Four Weddings and a Funeral still holds a special place in his heart, however.

“I think everyone would be proud to be associated with it,” he says. “It’s really gratifying to have been part of something that people are so fond of.”

Four Weddings and a Funeral is streaming on Prime Video.