Withnail and I was made in 1986 by Handmade Films Ltd, and written and directed by Bruce Robinson. Set in 1969, and partly autobiographical, it stars Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as the title characters - two out of work actors who 'go on holiday by mistake' and find themselves in Penrith without food or firewood and in the company of Withnail's homosexual and affectionate uncle Monty, played by Richard Griffiths.
- Withnail - Richard E Grant
- ...and I - Paul McGann1
- Monty - Richard Griffiths
- Danny - Ralph Brown
- Jake - Michael Elphick
- Man in pub - Daragh O'Malley
- Isacs Parkin - Michael Wardle
- Mrs Parkin - Una Brandon-Jones
- The General - Noel Johnson
- Miss Blenner-Hassett - Irene Sutcliffe
- Boiler - Llewellyn Rees
- Policeman 1 - Robert Oates
- Policeman 2 - Anthony Wise
- Presuming Ed - Eddie Tagoe
The film opens with Withnail and Marwood evaluating the status of their lives: 'I'm an actor reduced to the status of a bum'2, and after a visit from the 'purveyor of rare herbs and proscribed chemicals' (drug dealer) Danny, Marwood decides that they need a holiday in the country to rejuvenate, although Withnail has his doubts: 'I'm in a park and I'm practically dead. What good's the countryside?' Marwood persuades him to ask his Uncle Monty if they are able to stay in his cottage in Penrith for a weekend, and Withnail achieves this by informing Monty that Marwood is a homosexual and 'available'.
The weekend soon descends into disaster. It is raining heavily the night they arrive and they are forced to burn furniture. More seriously they have come on holiday without any aspirin and a hungover Withnail declares that he is feeling 'like a pig s**t in my head'.
The food they manage to buy from a local farmer is a live chicken which they have to kill themselves, a thing which Marwood is reluctant to do: 'I can't. Those dreadful, beady eyes, they stare you out.' The pair also manage to make an enemy of Jake, the local poacher, and spend a terrified night believing that he is coming after them with a live eel.
Another problem (although only for Marwood) is that Monty arrives that night and Marwood spends an entire day being terrified of his advances. The next night he only escapes by pretending that he and Withnail are in love and Monty leaves the cottage in despair after leaving a note apologising for his actions.
Withnail and Marwood return to London after Marwood learns that he has a got a part at a Manchester theatre. They part company in Regents Park in the rain, and the film ends with Withnail quoting Shakespeare to the wolves in a cage close by:
I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this mighty o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire; why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a God! The beauty of the world, paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dusk? Man delights not me, no, nor women neither, nor women neither.3
The film itself is available on either video or DVD. The DVD includes a documentary about the 'cult status' of the film, and a limited-edition poster of original artwork.
The screenplay is also available (Bloomsbury, 1995) with a new introduction by Bruce Robinson. There are also a few hilarious scenes that didn't make it into the finished film, accompanied by Bruce Robinson's superb stage directions.
Unfortunately the superb soundtrack is no longer available.
The 'Withnail and I' Drinking Game
I demand to have some booze!'
There is a 'Withnail and I' drinking game, which consists of matching the drinks that they drink in the entire film.
This is extremely expensive and difficult as the film spans a weekend in two hours and they drink almost constantly. For example, the first time they go into a pub Withnail orders 'Two large gins. Two pints of cider. Ice in the cider' and they continue to drink like this throughout the film. When extremely desperate Withnail even resorts to lighter fluid, although this is exceptionally dangerous and could well kill you, so don't do it!
Actually, it's strongly recommended you don't play the game too often either - you are in danger of either alcohol poisoning, running seriously short of cash, or waking up a week later, devoid of aspirin and feeling 'like a pig s**t in your head.'
Anyway, that's how you play, it's very simple but some people have found that the film makes sense if you are as inebriated as the protagonists: it all suddenly seems so logical...
On one of the opening pages of the screenplay this dedication to Viv appears. In the introduction that follows, Bruce Robinson describes Vivian, a friend that he met at university and with whom he lived the 'Withnail life' for several years and without whom, he declares, 'this story could never have been written.'
Sadly this film is dedicated to Vivian because he died of throat cancer, and Bruce Robinson ends his introduction with some of the most poignant words ever written:
That night we go into Regent's Park and look at the wolves. I can't count the number of times we went into the park and looked at the wolves. And I can't believe that Vivian is dead. He got cancer of the throat and they tore his voice out. And the fellow I'd always thought of as being the biggest coward I'd ever met materialised into the bravest bastard I'd ever known. It's got to be hard to laugh when you're dying, but I'll always remember you laughing. That sad, brilliant, bitter face of yours laughing. Goodbye my darling friend. This is for you for ever. And I know if there's a pub in heaven, you'll be in it. And Keats will be buying the drinks.