In late sixties London two unemployable actors are slowly
sinking into the mire of their own making. Withnail, an alcoholic
lovey with delusions of grandeur, shares a flat with I - a
flat that is so crappy that it almost begs for a reinterpretation
of the concept of squalor. With their brains addled with drugs
and a lack of alcohol the two decide that what they really
need is to get away from it all, a decision that goes horribly
wrong when they find that they have gone on holiday by mistake...
and I (1987) was written and directed by Bruce Robinson.
Although Robinson had previously penned the script for The
Killing Fields (1984), Withnail represented his
directorial debut. The film did not, initially, fare well,
though today it is considered to be pretty much a classic,
being one of the most quotable films of all time- hell it
even has its own dangerous drinking game. This state of affairs
is not unknown in filmmaking; the same thing had happened
to Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Withnail
suffers from the same problem as most other cult films, in
that if you get it, its most probably going to be the funniest
film you ever saw and if not your going to be staring at the
screen wondering what all the full was about.
This is not meant to sound elitist, just a reflection that
personal taste plays a big part in whether you will enjoy
the film, personally I fall into the laugh myself stupid category.
Richard E. Grant's portrayal of Withnail as a willowy shadow
of a man, totally immersed in his own self-importance, drugs
and lighter fuel is little short of brilliant especially as
Grant is a tea-total. It's a lot like watching a rather camp
large drunken stork wandering around the countryside in a
permanent state of angry befuddlement.
Paul McGann plays the anxiety ridden I, and to be honest with
a friend like Withnail, he has a lot to be nervous about.
In his desire to flee London, where the only warmth in the
flat comes from rubbing their bodies with Deep Heat, Withnail
concocts a plan to impose on his Uncle Monty's (Richard Griffiths)
generosity to stay at his country retreat, the price being
an evening of homosexual delight with the obliviously heterosexual
can't leave looking at the actors without mentioning Ralph
Brown who plays Danny a dealer friend, who has so obviously
taken too many drugs that he lives on a completely different
planet, making him sound like a very wise fool. He has some
great lines, but then there are very few characters in the
film that don't have a good quantity of quotable lines.
Bay has produced another good package at a very decent price.
This version comes as a three disc special, the third disc
being a soundtrack CD, which I cannot comment on, as they
didn't send me a copy. The first disc contains a digitally
re-mastered version of the film and very nice it looks too.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and comes with
a stereo, 5.1 and DTS soundtrack. To be honest the 5.1 and
DTS gives you a clearer soundscape but little else, its not
that the disc is badly encoded; it's just not the sort of
film to push your system. Disc one also comes with a full-length
commentary by the director, Paul McGann and Ralph Brown.
Two is packed full of extras, some good some not so. The new
interview with the director is ok but it covers a lot of the
same ground as previous documentaries. Postcards From Penrith
is an odd little fan film with a couple of blokes obsessively
tracking down the original films locations. There is the
Withnail and Us, an old documentary from 1999, and a piece
on the popular, if more than a little dangerous, drinking
game that can be played with the film. Last up is the Swear-a-thon
which strings together all the swear words in the film and
believe me there is a lot of swearing in the film. Also, you
get a look at some of the behind the scene stills from Ralph
Steadman and the inevitable original theatrical trailer.
Anchor Bay has done the film justice with this package. The
movie still retains its originality, wit and downright belly
laughs, go buy it you'll love it - just don't try the drinking
game. I have and was lucky enough to live to regret it.