Withnail and I
20th Anniversary Edition

Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 02 October 2006

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...

Withnail 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 I.

We 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.

Anchor 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.

Disc 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.

Overall, 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.

Charles Packer

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