Withnail and I
|Withnail and I|
Original UK release poster
Art by Ralph Steadman
|Directed by||Bruce Robinson|
|Produced by||Paul Heller|
|Written by||Bruce Robinson|
|Edited by||Alan Strachan|
|Running time||107 minutes |
|Budget||GBP 1.1 million|
Withnail and I is a 1987 black comedy film produced by George Harrison's HandMade Films. It was written and directed by Bruce Robinson and is based on his life in London in the late 1960s. The main plot follows two unemployed young actors, Withnail and “I” (portrayed by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) who live in a squalid flat in Camden Town in 1969 while waiting for their careers to take off. Needing a holiday, they obtain the key to the country cottage in the Lake District belonging to Withnail’s flamboyantly gay uncle Monty and drive there. The holiday is less recuperative than they expected.
Withnail & I was Grant's first film and launched him into a successful career. The film also featured performances by Richard Griffiths as Withnail's Uncle Monty and Ralph Brown as Danny the drug dealer. The film has tragic and comic elements (particularly farce) and is notable for its period music and many quotable lines. It has been described as "one of Britain's biggest cult films".
The film depicts the lives and misadventures of two "resting" (struggling and unemployed) young actor friends in 1969 London. They are the flamboyant alcoholic Withnail and "I" (named "Marwood" in the published screenplay but not in the credits) as his more level-headed, anxiety-prone friend and the film's narrator. Withnail is filled with indignation over life's injustices, despite his privileged background. He rages against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune all the more because he blames others for the adverse consequences of his exuberant arrogance and habitual lying. Withnail sets the tone for the friendship, with Marwood going along with whatever Withnail wants to do. They live in a filthy Georgian flat in Camden Town. While they wait for a part, daily life revolves around getting coins to use in the meters that provide gas or electricity, going to collect benefits, and waiting for the pubs to open so they can drink and be somewhere with heating. Their only other company at the flat besides each other is the local drug dealer, Danny; a somewhat distasteful man with far out, often bizarre viewpoints on the current state of affairs and a knack for irritating Withnail.
The film begins with Marwood smoking in the darkened flat. When he has finished he goes to a café and reads disturbing articles in a newspaper. Needing a change of scene, Withnail and Marwood decide to take a recuperative holiday in the countryside. Withnail secures the loan of the country cottage belonging to his eccentric gay uncle, Monty. Monty is an old boy of Harrow School, and it is suggested that Withnail is one too. Monty is told that Marwood went to "the other place". Monty is an aesthete, nostalgic for a by-gone age of beauty and poetic friendship among young men, and, fancying himself an actor, is fond of quoting Charles Baudelaire and reciting passages from Hamlet, claiming that 'it is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself "I will never play the Dane."' His only companion in the large luxurious Chelsea house in which he resides (West House, Glebe Place) is a large chocolate Persian cat with which he is seen constantly arguing.
Withnail and Marwood get into Marwood's battered Jaguar Mark 2, which is parked next to a scene of demolition of some old houses (significant for the time period) and set off north along the motorway. The holiday doesn't quite go according to plan: although the countryside is beautiful, the weather is cold and often inclement, the cottage is run-down and dusty, they have little food or supplies and the locals are surly and unwelcoming – in particular a threatening poacher, Jake, whom Withnail manages to offend. Later on that night, an intruder breaks into the cottage. Withnail and Marwood are terrified, believing the trespasser to be Jake, but it soon turns out to be Monty, who has been stranded for "an aeon" with a punctured tyre. They greet Monty with mixed emotions. Monty brings them ample supplies of food and wine, but it soon becomes clear that – having been falsely told by Withnail that Marwood is gay in order to get the cottage – he has designs on Marwood and will not be deterred by politeness.
In a farcical scene of bedroom-switching, Monty eventually corners Marwood, bursting into his room and proclaiming his desire to "have [him] even if it must be burglary." Terrified, Marwood manages to stave off Monty's overtures with the excuse that he has a permanent relationship with Withnail that he is afraid to reveal. Monty, who believes in love and loyalty, accepts this excuse as the whole truth and apologizes for coming between them. Rebuffed, Monty leaves the cottage in the night for London. The next morning, Marwood finds Monty's gracious note of apology and reads it aloud, feeling sympathy for him. Withnail however, who is eagerly drinking Monty's fine wine, takes no responsibility for the chaos he has caused, and Marwood begins to distance himself from his friend. Marwood then receives a telegram that confirms that he has an audition for a part, and he insists that they go back to London immediately despite Withnail's reluctance.
After Withnail (who has no driving licence and is still drunk) tries to "make time" by driving the car while Marwood sleeps, and swerving all over the road, they encounter a police van and eventually pull over for it. Withnail is arrested for driving while intoxicated, and attempts to give them someone else's urine sample from a Fairy Liquid bottle attached by a tube to his penis; a trick suggested to him by Danny before the trip. The pair return to the flat, to find a large man lying in their bath. Danny, who is squatting at the flat, opines that the oncoming end of the 1960s is the end of the "greatest decade in the history of mankind" and that "there are going to be a lot of refugees." The three, and Danny's friend Presuming Ed (the man in the bath), get high smoking a "Camberwell carrot" (cannabis joint). Marwood calls his agent and discovers that the production company now want him to play the lead part in the play, but also receives an eviction notice in the mail which Withnail is too high to care about. He gets his curly hair cut short, packs his bags, and prepares to leave for the station for what he hopes is a new and more mature phase of his life. He wants to leave by himself, but Withnail insists upon accompanying him at least part of the way, while drinking from a bottle of Monty's wine; "'53 Margaux, best of the century."
After a heartfelt farewell Marwood sets off for a brighter future, leaving Withnail in the rain in Regent's Park. There, for the first time, a forlorn and lonely Withnail sincerely reveals himself, declaiming "What a piece of work is a man!" from Act 2 Scene ii of Hamlet to an uncomprehending pack of wolves behind a fence in the adjoining London Zoo, his dreams shattered as he finally realizes that he himself will "never play the Dane". The camera remains still as he turns and walks away into the gloomy distance, swinging the bottle, as the credits start to roll.
- Richard E. Grant as Withnail
- Paul McGann as "...& I"
- Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty
- Ralph Brown as Danny
- Michael Elphick as Jake
- Eddie Tagoe as Presuming Ed
- Daragh O'Malley as Irishman
- Michael Wardle as Isaac Parkin
- Una Brandon-Jones as Mrs. Parkin
- Noel Johnson as General
The film is an adaptation of an unpublished novel written by Robinson in late 1969. Actor friend Don Hawkins passed a copy of the manuscript to his friend, the wealthy oil heir Moderick Schreiber in 1980. Schreiber, looking to break into the film industry, paid Robinson a few thousand pounds sterling to adapt it into a screenplay, which Robinson did in the early 1980s. On completing the script, producer Paul Heller urged Robinson to direct it and found funding for half the film. The script was then passed to HandMade Films. After he read it, George Harrison agreed to fund the remainder of the film.
Robinson's script is largely autobiographical. "Marwood" is Robinson; "Withnail" is based on Vivian MacKerrell, a friend with whom he shared a Camden house; and "Uncle Monty" is loosely based on Franco Zeffirelli from whom Robinson received unwanted amorous attentions when he was a young actor. He lived in the impoverished conditions seen in the film and wore plastic bags as Wellington boots. For the script, Robinson condensed four or five years of his life into two weeks.
The narrative is told in the first person by the character played by Paul McGann, named just once in passing in the film (see below) as Marwood, and only credited as "I".
Early in the film, Withnail reads from an article headlined "Boy Lands Plum Role For Top Italian Director" and then goes on to imply that the director is sexually abusing the boy. This is a reference to the sexual harassment that Robinson alleges he suffered at the hands of Italian director Franco Zeffirelli when, as a young man, he won the role of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet.
The end of the novel saw Withnail committing suicide by pouring a bottle of wine into the barrel of Monty's gun and then pulling the trigger as he drank from it. Robinson changed the ending, as he believed it was "too dark."
The film cost £1.1 million to make. Robinson received £80,000 to direct, £30,000 of which he reinvested into the film to shoot additional scenes such as the journeys to and from Penrith, which HandMade Films would not fund. He was never reimbursed his money after the film's success.
Paul McGann was Robinson's first choice for "I", but he was fired during rehearsals because Robinson decided McGann's Liverpool accent was wrong for the character. Several other actors read for the role, but McGann eventually persuaded Robinson to re-audition him, promising to affect a Home Counties accent. He quickly won back the part.
Actors who were considered for the part of "Withnail" included Daniel Day-Lewis, Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh. Robinson claims that he told Richard E. Grant that "half of you has got to go", and put him on a diet in order to play the part although Grant denies this in the 1999 documentary "Withnail and Us". The role of Withnail was Grant's first in film and launched him into a successful career.
Though playing a raging alcoholic, Grant himself is a teetotaller with a health condition preventing him from properly processing alcohol. He had therefore never been drunk prior to making the film. Robinson decided that it would be impossible for Grant to play the character without having ever experienced inebriation and a hangover, and thus "forced" the actor on a drinking binge. Grant has stated that he was "violently sick" after each drink, and found the experience on a whole deeply unpleasant.
During the filming of the scene in which the lighter fluid is consumed, Robinson changed the contents of the can, which had been filled with water, to vinegar. While the vomiting is scripted, the facial expression is totally natural.
The film was not shot entirely on location. There was no filming in the real Penrith, the locations used were in and around nearby Shap and Bampton. Monty's cottage, "Crow Crag", is actually Sleddale Hall, located near the Wet Sleddale Reservoir just outside Shap, although the lake that "Crow Crag" apparently overlooks is actually Haweswater Reservoir.
Sleddale Hall was offered for sale in January 2009; a trust has been created by fans who wish to collectively purchase the building for its preservation as a piece of British film history. It was sold at auction for £265,000 on 16 February 2009. The starting price was £145,000. It was bought by Sebastian Hindley, who owns the Mardale Inn in the nearby village of Bampton, which did not feature in the film. Hindley was unable to raise the necessary finances and in August 2009 the property was resold for an undisclosed sum to Tim Ellis, an architect from Kent, whose original bid failed at the auction.
The bridge where Withnail and Marwood go fishing is located at the bottom of the hill below Sleddale Hall, a quarter of a mile away. The telephone box where Withnail calls his agent is beside the main road in Bampton.
Although exterior and ground floor interior shots of Crow Crag were shot at Sleddale Hall, Stockers Farm in Rickmansworth was used for the bedroom and stair scenes. Stockers Farm was also the location for the "Crow and Crown" pub.
- Milton Keynes
"The Mother Black Cap" pub in the film was in reality the "The Frog and Firkin" pub situated in Tavistock Crescent, Westbourne Green. For some time after the film, it was officially called "The Mother Black Cap". It has since been demolished. Withnail and Marwood's flat was located at 57 Chepstow Place in Bayswater (W2). The shot of them leaving for Penrith as they turn left from the building being demolished was shot on Freston road (W11). The cafe where Marwood has breakfast at the beginning of the film is located at the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road. The scene where Withnail and Marwood are ordered to "get in the back of the van" was filmed on the flyover near John Aird Court, Paddington. The final scene was shot in Regent's Park. Uncle Monty's house is actually the West House, Glebe Place, Chelsea, SW3.
- Shepperton Studios
Police Station interior was shot at the studios.
"I" 's name
Although the first name of 'I' is not stated anywhere in the film, it is widely believed that it is 'Peter'. This myth arose as a result of a line of misheard dialogue. In the scene where Monty meets the two actors, Withnail asks him if he would like a drink. In his reply, Monty both accepts his offer and says "...you must tell me all the news, I haven't seen you since you finished your last film". While pouring another drink, and downing his own, Withnail replies that he has been "Rather busy uncle. TV and stuff". Then pointing at Marwood he says "He's just had an audition for rep". Some fans hear this line as "Peter's had an audition for rep", although the original shooting script and all commercially published versions of the script read "he's".
The "I" character's name is given as 'Marwood' in the original screenplay. It has been suggested that it is possible that 'Marwood' can be heard near the beginning of the film: As the characters escape from the Irishman in the Mother Black Cap, Withnail shouts "Get out of my way!". Some hear this line as "Out of the way, Marwood!", although the script reads simply "Get out of my way!".
There is, however, one occasion in the film where the name 'Marwood' is given, though not stated. Toward the end of the film a telegram arrives at Crow Crag and as Withnail reads the note, the name 'Marwood' appears to be visible, upside-down, on the envelope. 'I' is now widely accepted as 'Marwood', as this was the name that was used in the script of 'Withnail and I', but due to the fact that the story is told from Marwood's point of view, he is considered as 'I'. In the end credits and most media relating to the film, McGann's character is referenced solely as "...& I."
However, in the supplemental material packaged with the Special Edition DVD in the UK, McGann's character is referred to as Peter Marwood in the cast credits.
The film had a UK gross of £565,112 and a US gross of $1,544,889. DVD and VHS sales have been quite strong throughout the years, and the film has gained cult status with a number of websites dedicated to the film itself. In 2000, readers of Total Film voted Withnail and I the third greatest comedy film of all time. In 2004 the same magazine named it the 13th greatest British film of all time. Withnail & I was 38th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Films poll.
The film holds a 93% "fresh" rating, and an average rating of 8.3 out of 10 from critic website Rotten Tomatoes. In August 2009 The Observer polled 60 eminent British film filmmakers and film critics who voted it the second best British film of the last 25 years. The film was also ranked number 118 in Empire's 500 Greatest Films of all Time list. In 2009 critic Roger Ebert added the film to his "Great Movies" list, describing Grant's performance as a "tour de force" and Withnail as "one of the iconic figures in modern films."
In 2007, a digitally remastered version of the film was released by the UK Film Council. It was shown at over fifty cinemas around the UK on 11 September, as part of the final week of the BBC's "Summer of British Film" season.
There is a drinking game associated with Withnail and I. The game consists of keeping up, drink for drink, with each alcoholic substance consumed by Withnail over the course of the film. All told, Withnail is shown drinking roughly nine and a half glasses of red wine, half a pint of cider, one shot of lighter fluid (vinegar or overproof rum are common substitutes), two and a half shots of gin, six glasses of sherry, thirteen glasses of whisky and half a pint of ale.
Withnail and I is referenced in the lyrics of the Kings of Leon song "King of the Rodeo".
In the ITV television series Endeavour Series 2 Episode 1 when Endeavour visits London, there is a plaque on the front of a building stating "R. Duck - Theatrical Agent. 4th Floor". This is a reference to Montague (Uncle Monty) H Withnail's agent, Raymond Duck, who resided on the 4th floor on the Charing Cross Road . "I remember my first agent. Raymond Duck. A dreadful little Israelite. Four floors up on the Charing Cross Road and never a job at the top of them". - 'Uncle Monty'
In the ITV soap opera Coronation Street during an episode broadcast 1st June 2014, in the aftermath of the attack on Tina MacIntyre, Peter Barlow is sitting on the floor of this flat half drunk. When questioned about his sobriety he replies in a faked drunken slur "I can assure you officer I've only had a few light ales" paraphrasing Withnail's line "I assure you I'm not officer, honestly, I've only had a few ales"
The film has been released in several countries world wide.
A Region-4 DVD was released by Umbrella Entertainment in Australia in 2009 in the form of a 2-disc special edition featuring extras including two audio commentaries and two documentaries Withnail & Us and Postcards from Penrith. The film ran for 107 minutes and was a 16:9 widescreen version. The same firm released the film on Blu-ray in 2010  as well as a cheaper single-disc DVD 'Vanilla' edition (featuring the film but with no extras) in 2012.
The first DVD edition of the film was a 4:3 pan and scan version released in Canada by Seville Pictures. The film ran to 104 minutes. Although the sleeve claimed that the original cinema trailer was included as an extra, it was omitted from the disc. At the time the sleeve was printed, Seville believed they had access to the trailer but later discovered it was not in their library.
- United States
The second DVD release of the film was in North America as part of the Criterion Collection. This was the first widescreen release of the film and was remastered under the supervision of the film's Director of Photography, Peter Hannan. Although widescreen, the film was actually presented letterboxed in a 4:3 raster rather than anamorphic format.
- United Kingdom (1st Edition)
The first UK release was by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2001. It included a number of extras, such as the original trailer, the Channel 4 documentary Withnail and Us, a commentary by Paul McGann and Ralph Brown, and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The main feature was converted from the North American release and exhibited some picture and compression artefacts as a result. Like the North American release, it was also letterboxed. This edition was later re-released by Anchor Bay in February 2007.
- United Kingdom (2nd Edition)
The second UK release was a budget edition by Anchor Bay in 2005, under their Bay View label. It featured an un-remastered version of the film, identical to the original cinema release in 1987 (later editions of film had several minutes of cut footage reinstated). No extras were included.
- United Kingdom (20th Anniversary Edition)
The third UK release, again from Anchor Bay, came in 2006 to coincide with the film's 20th Anniversary. For this three-disc release the film was remastered in high definition and released for the first time in anamorphic. It included all the extra features from the first UK edition, plus an additional commentary by Bruce Robinson, a featurette on the Drinking Game, a brand new interview with Bruce Robinson and a locations featurette called Postcards from Penrith. A bonus CD was also included, featuring all of the music specially composed for the film, because the soundtrack was no longer in print and had become rare.
- Free copy
One of very few releases (if not the only) of the film outside anglophone countries. The DVD features besides the original English audio track a German dubbed one (stemming from a TV screening from the mid 80s) and several extras from the UK releases, such as the audio commentary by Bruce Robinson.
On 31 July 2007 Channel 4 put the entire film up online as part of their 4oD video-on-demand service. It was available to download free of charge from 4oD until 12 August 2007 after which a fee was chargeable.
The film also features a rare appearance of a recording by The Beatles, whose song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" briefly plays as Marwood and Withnail return to London and find Presuming Ed in the bath. Although the surviving members of the group rarely licensed the use of their original recordings for feature films (cover versions were often substituted, as in the case of The Royal Tenenbaums and I Am Sam), George Harrison was one of the film's producers, and allowed its inclusion in Withnail & I.
There is a misheld belief among some fans of the film that King Curtis was murdered on the night his live performance of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was recorded. Ralph Brown, in the audio commentary on some DVD issues, wrongly states that he was shot in the car park after the concert. Curtis was stabbed to death in August 1971, some five months after the recording was made in March 1971. The recording comes from Curtis's album Live at Fillmore West.
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale (live)" – King Curtis – 5:25
- "The Wolf" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 1:33
- "All Along the Watchtower (reduced tempo)" – Jimi Hendrix – 4:10
- "To the Crow" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 2:22
- "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (live)" – Jimi Hendrix – 4:28
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" – The Beatles – 4:44
- "Marwood Walks" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 2:14
- "Monty Remembers" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 2:02
- "La Fite" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 1:10
- "Hang Out the Stars in Indiana" – Al Bowlly and New Mayfair Dance Orchestra – 1:35
- "Crow Crag" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 0:56
- "Cheval Blanc" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 1:15
- "My Friend" – Charlie Kunz – 1:28
- "Withnail's Theme" – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth – 2:40
- "WITHNAIL AND I (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 27 March 1987. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- IMDb: Box office for Withnail and I Retrieved 2013-04-28
- Russell, Jamie (October 2003). "How "Withnail & I" Became a Cult". BBC. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
- Jackson, Kevin (8 October 2006). "Withnail & I: Britain's best film?". The Independent. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- McManus, Thomas Hewitt. Withnail & I: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know but Were Too Drunk to Ask, Lulu.com, 2006.
- Murphy, Peter. "Interview with Bruce Robinson". Retrieved 7 August 2007.
- Film 4 review. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
- Owen, Alistair. Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson". p. 128. Bloomsbury, 2000.
- "Withnail and I in Camden". Time Out. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
- Owen, Alistair. Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson. pp. 108–109. Bloomsbury, 2000.
- Owen, Alistair: "Smoking in Bed. Conversations with Bruce Robinson", page 109. Bloomsbury, 2000.
- "Withnail and I > Richard E Grant". Withnail-links.com. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Farmhouse from cult film for sale". BBC. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 31 January 2009.
- Wainwright, Martin (25 August 2009). "Some extremely distressing news: Withnail and I shrine falls through". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 August 2009.
- Hewitt-McManus, Thomas: "Twenty things you might want to know about Withnail & I", DVD insert. Anchor Bay, 2006.
- "Withnail and I". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
- "The Observer Film Quarterly's best British films of the last 25 years". The Observer (London). 30 August 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
- Ebert, Roger (2009) Withnail & I Movie Review, 25 March 2009, retrieved 02 April 2014
- "BBC – The Summer of British Film – What's On". BBC. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Withnail and I comes of age". thequietus.com. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
- Jonze, Tim (14 November 2011). "My favourite film: Withnail and I". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2011. "I have to confess, I first heard about Withnail and I in terms of a drinking game – could you watch the film while matching the two lead characters shot for shot, pint for pint, Camberwell carrot for Camberwell carrot?"
- "The Withnail and I Drinking Game". withnail-links.com. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
- The Withnail and I Drinking Game, DVD featurette. Anchor Bay 2006.
- http://www.postcardsfrompenrith.com Postcards from Penrith website
- The Withnail and I Multimedia Archive – 20th Anniversary with 4oD
- "Withnail Links – Soundtrack". Fan site. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
- "Top 25 Movie Music Moments". clashmusic.com. 27 March 2011.
- Further reading
- Ali Catterall and Simon Wells, Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties (Fourth Estate, 2001)
- Richard E Grant, With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E Grant (Picador, 1996)
- Thomas Hewitt-McManus, Withnail & I: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know But Were Too Drunk To Ask (Lulu Press, 2006)
- Kevin Jackson, Withnail & I (BFI, 2004)
- Alistair Owen (editor), Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson (Bloomsbury, 2000)
- Bruce Robinson, Withnail & I: The Original Screenplay (Bloomsbury, 1995)
- Maisie Robson, Withnail and the Romantic Imagination: a eulogy (King's England Press, 2010)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Withnail and I|
- Withnail & I at the Internet Movie Database
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- Withnail & I at Box Office Mojo
- Withnail & I at Rotten Tomatoes
- Withnail & I at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Behind the scenes photographs by on-set photographer, Murray Close
- List of Withnail and I resources
- Withnail's Famous Coat Is Auctioned – The Guardian Newspaper
- Criterion Collection essay by Bruce Robinson
- Image gallery on BBC Cumbria
- Useful page with help on finding the elusive Soundtrack album from Withnail and I
- Filming Locations for Withnail & I
- Withnail & I – 25 Years On