It’s both hard and easy to believe it’s 25 years since we made Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Hard to believe because there are events I remember clearly, like the first screening of a 20-minute section we had edited for cast and crew – during which no one laughed, no, not once. But easy to believe it’s been that long as one look at Hugh Grant’s old face shows the passing of a lot of years.
It had certainly never occurred to me to do any kind of sequel to the film – it had ended with so many happy marriages and I certainly didn’t want to make a movie called Four Divorces and Four Funerals. But then one day it did suddenly occur to me and Emma [Freud, Curtis’s partner] that, well, people have children – and those children might have grown up now, 25 years later – and THEY might be getting married. And that did seem quite fun.
First, we had to check with Hugh and Andie MacDowell: Hugh lives just round the corner, so that was easy, and Andie has been in England filming recently and was happy to return. I think we got lucky because we shot our little follow-up just before Christmas and lots of people had finished work for the year. Almost the most difficult person to deal with was Simon Callow, whose character Gareth died in the film, but was still very keen indeed to be in the new one. There was much talk of angel wings.
Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson filming for Comic Relief (BBC)
The next thing to do when everyone had said they were free was to actually write the new Red Nose Wedding script. It helped knowing that Rowan Atkinson was going to reprise his performance as the incompetent Father Gerald – I can promise you he has not improved with age.
But what was tricky was making sure EVERYONE had some kind of line or joke. I’d forgotten quite how many characters there are in Four Weddings. Eventually we had 24 returning characters and I wanted everyone to do something fun. It was a lot to fit into a two-day shoot, and some beloved characters only manage a tiny moment, but at least they are all there.
And then we came to the first day itself, which was surreal. Early in the morning, coming up the stairs, there were all these wonderful actors together again, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the days we shot the original film. One sweet aspect was remembering in how many cases the part had been cast with someone who, well, resembled the part. Posh George, who Hugh met in the pub after the first Wedding, is the marvellously posh Rupert Vansittart – even posher now than he was then. Kristin Scott Thomas is that same magical mixture of intelligent and beautiful and also ever so slightly scary – as was her character Fiona.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are cordially invited to the wedding of the year… 👰💒💍#RedNoseDay🔴 returns on Friday 15th March and reunites the fabulous cast of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' with a one-off comedy sketch; 'One Red Nose Day and a Wedding'. Are you excited? pic.twitter.com/r6brc3pQYw
It was two full and interesting days. Hugh had trouble remembering his character – but then he put on a pair of glasses and it all seemed to come back. Our marvellous director, Mike Newell, took it very seriously, with all the passion and accuracy that he put into the first film. It is actually meant to be a continuation of the film – not just a sketch – and on a couple of occasions there was genuine emotion and passion and even romance in the room.
There was a particularly magical moment when Nicola Walker – now the star of Unforgotten and River and Spooks – reprised her role as “Annoying Girl Singing Annoying Song by Barry Manilow”, which was her first EVER movie part 25 years ago. This time she sang with a new, exceptionally famous singer whose name I can’t reveal but has had over a billion streams on Spotify – so he really KILLED the song.
And then there’s a moment in the middle that our two movie-star guest leads tell each other they love each other when, I can’t deny, there were some tears and some wiping away of them.
And why do we do it? Well, I guess it is all about weddings and funerals, too. For kids to grow up to be happy adults who can marry people they love. And for children and adults to live full lives – not to have a world of funerals that could and should be avoided, whether it’s to do with homelessness or domestic violence here in the UK, or malaria abroad, or refugees dying in camps or at sea. All we at Comic Relief want is for people to be given a chance for happiness in life – for things to be fair.
I’d love to invite you to watch our show on Friday – it’ll be the world premiere of 14 new minutes of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I think it’s got some jokes – it’s got three or four VERY unexpected new cast members – and perhaps once you’ve watched it, you’ll join us trying, in our own way, to save lives.
One Red Nose Day and a Wedding will air as part of the main Comic Relief 2019 show on Friday 15th March at 7pm on BBC1