UK Release Date: 10th November 2014
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writer: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown
Synopsis: Two struggling actors decide to take a break in a secluded country cottage.
Few films define the term “cult classic” as much as Bruce Robinson’s 80s comedy Withnail & I. Quotable, well-acted and delightfully low budget, the film is as British as they come and as dark as it is hilarious.
Withnail & I was Robinson’s first film as a director after he previously wrote the script for Oscar-winning drama The Killing Fields. The original print has been remastered in 2k – under the supervision of DoP Peter Hannan – for a new release from Arrow Films.
Set as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, the film follows Withnail (Richard E Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) – two out of work actors living in a squalid London flat. To get away from it all for a while, they spend some time at a country cottage owned by Withnail’s relative Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths).
| "Flowers are essentially tarts; prostitutes for the bees."
It’s difficult to pin down what it is that makes Withnail & I such a great film. Indeed, in the interviews included in the special features on this disc, several of the people involved say that they have no idea what it is that makes the film work so well. But there’s definitely something.
At least some of the film’s impact can be traced back to its central performances. Richard E Grant is simply unforgettable as Withnail, completely inhabiting the bleak, drink and drug addled exterior as well as the posh, privileged personality. He provides many of the film’s most memorable quotes, but also brings some nuance into his character, such as in the oft-praised final scene in which he recites a Hamlet soliloquy to a pack of wolves in London Zoo.
But Withnail & I is, of course, a two-hander and Paul McGann does an excellent job of counter-balancing the wildness of his best friend. His performance is a masterclass of how to underplay a role. Add in huge performances from the legendary Richard Griffiths and the unforgettable Ralph Brown as Dealer Danny and you have the recipe for a classic.
| "I loathe those Russian plays. Always full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks going to Moscow."
Withnail & I also benefits from one of the tightest, cleverest scripts in the history of cinema. Bruce Robinson has crafted a collage of comedy that is mostly just two men becoming gradually more inebriated and insane. But the entire thing is packed with bundles of wit and smatterings of darkness.
This latest Blu-ray release is a gorgeous restoration of the film. Withnail & I retains its charming grubbiness, but it now has a clarity of picture and sound that makes it a visual treat as well. Peter Hannan’s cinematography really benefits from the transfer, ensuring that the film is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears.
There are audio commentaries with Bruce Robinson and critic Kevin Jackson, the latter of whom is perhaps a little too reverent and seems to simply enjoy watching the film. There’s also Robinson’s follow-up film How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a handful of horribly dry new behind-the-scenes interviews and the cool Withnail Weekend documentaries from 1999.
Pop or Poop?
Rightfully heralded as a cult classic, Withnail & I is an excellent example of comedy at its most British.
Richard E Grant and Paul McGann give indelible performances, aided by a supporting cast on top form and a script that packs in dozens of instantly memorable lines.
It’s a real achievement of economy, with a storyline stripped down to its bare basics. When the character moments come, they hit surprisingly hard.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Withnail & I is available on Blu-ray now courtesy of Arrow Films.