Withnail and I (1987) – Film Review

Withnail And I

Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
Certificate: 15

By Sarah Morgan

“We’ve come on holiday by mistake,” “We want the finest wines available to humanity, and we want them here, and we want them now!” “Get in the back of the van!”

The memorable quotes from Withnail and I are almost endless. Go to a screening and you’ll hear murmurings throughout the audience as fans recite them alongside the actors.

Withnail And IIf that’s the kind of thing that would spoil your viewing, fret not because Bruce Robinson’s magnum opus is now available on shiny 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of our friends at Arrow Video, and pretty special it is too – the movie now looks better than it did on its original cinema release back in 1987.

“Grant’s performance is outstanding”

For the uninitiated, the film launched the career of the then-unknown Richard E Grant, who plays Withnail, a role Daniel Day-Lewis, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Ed Tudor-Pole were all considered for. It’s hard to imagine anybody else playing the raging, narcissistic drunk now; Grant’s performance is outstanding, particularly when you consider he’s a teetotaller with an allergy to alcohol playing a raging drinker.

Withnail is labouring under the misapprehension that he has what it takes to become a major star but is struggling to land an acting role of any kind. Bored and directionless, he and his flatmate (the ‘I’ of the title who is actually called Marwood) head for a holiday in the Lake District, staying in a rundown cottage owned by Withnail’s flamboyantly camp uncle Monty.

It turns out to be something of a disaster. Despite living in the flat from hell in a pre-gentrified 1969 Camden, neither of them are prepared for the rustic life – or the characters they meet – that lies ahead. It’s that fish-out-of-water feeling that creates the comedy; there are no jokes, just hilarious situations and reactions.

Withnail And I

“A masterpiece”

Paul McGann plays Marwood, a far more contemplative character than Withnail; you do wonder how they ended up together. Richard Griffiths threatens to steal the show as Monty, while Michael Elphick and Ralph Brown have eye-catching small roles too.

The plot was inspired by a real period in writer-director Robinson’s life, when he too was a struggling actor in the late 1960s, before winning a Bafta and an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for The Killing Fields; it was that success that enabled him to get Withnail and I off the ground.

Robinson is supposedly the ‘I’ character, while his friend Vivian MacKerrell provided one of the models for Withnail. It’s thought that Monty was inspired by Robinson’s experiences with Franco Zeffirelli while appearing as Benvolio in the director’s film version of Romeo and Juliet.

Whatever the facts of the matter are, the resulting movie is a masterpiece, one that Robinson hasn’t matched since; clearly abiding by the old adage of ‘write what you know’ worked well for him.

The special features are rather wonderful too, including archival interviews with Robinson and production designer Michael Pickwoad, an appreciation by Peep Show’s co-creator Sam Bain, and a selection of documentaries originally screened by Channel 4 during its 1999 Withnail Weekend.

Quite frankly, it’s superb – and you won’t need to be as inebriated as its title characters to enjoy it either.

  • Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by director of photography Peter Hannan
  • 4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Original lossless mono soundtrack
  • Optional lossless 5.1 soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Audio commentary by writer-director Bruce Robinson
  • Audio commentary by critic and writer Kevin Jackson, author of the BFI Modern Classic on Withnail & I
  • All four original Withnail Weekend documentaries, first screened on Channel 4 in 1999, including:
    • The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson, which looks at the director’s career
    • Withnail & Us, which focuses on the film’s making
    • Two shorter documentaries: I Demand to Have Some Booze and Withnail on the Pier
  • Interview with production designer Michael Pickwoad
  • An appreciation of Withnail & I by Sam Bain, co-creator of Peep Show and Fresh Meat
  • Archival interview with Bruce Robinson
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring two choices of original artwork
  • Limited edition perfect bound book featuring writing on the film by Vic Pratt, Anthony Nield, Martin Jones, Neil Mitchell and Mike Sutton
Withnail and I is released on 4K UHD by Arrow

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.