Blu-ray Review: Withnail & I (1987)

Withnail and I BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Bruce Robinson

Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Michael Elphick, Ralph Brown, Daragh O’Malley, Una Brandon-Jones

There are many different reasons why a film gains cult status but the general basis of any film labelled as a cult favourite is having characters that the audience can sympathise with/relate to infused with a quotable script. Bruce Robinson’s 1987 directorial debut Withnail & I has both of those things and has become a firm favourite of a generation – or by now, several generations – that celebrates the elegantly wasted, embodied here by Richard E. Grant.

Set in 1969 Grant plays the titular Withnail, an unemployed actor who, along with fellow unemployed actor Marwood (Paul McGann – Alien 3/Doctor Who), spends his time getting drunk – and not always on booze – and waiting for his next role to come to him. Deciding to escape London and the endless cycle of boredom the two friends go to Withnail’s Uncle Monty’s (Richard Griffiths – Sleepy Hollow) cottage in the country, only to discover they have no food, the locals aren’t too friendly and Uncle Monty has taken a shine to Marwood.

With not much of an actual plot to go on, Withnail & I relies heavily on performance and script, and that is where the real appeal lies. Richard E. Grant’s decadent portrayal of Withnail is what really carries the film and any scene that he is in – and that is pretty much all of them – is instantly made better by one of his wicked smiles and self-indulgent quips. The same cannot be said about Paul McGann though, and even though he is supposed to be ‘the straight man’ to Withnail’s quirky character, it feels at times that he is in another film, the only scenes he shows a flicker of charisma in being when the flamboyant Uncle Monty tries it on with him. Ralph Brown (Alien 3) appears as drug dealer Danny and delivers a memorable performance with his drugged-out philosophies and his invention of the Camberwell Carrot (you need to see it to believe it), although if you’re watching this film for the first time you’ll realise you’ve seen him do this same performance before as the stoned roadie Del Preston in Wayne’s World 2; he did it here first, folks.

Despite not having much of a story Withnail & I is a film worthy of checking out, if only to confirm that Britain did actually make some decent films in the 1980s. But whether it is a film that deserves all of the adulation that is constantly thrown at it is a little less clear-cut. Yes, the character of Withnail is a genial creation and the performances of Richard E. Grant and Ralph Brown make a good script a better one by delivering their lines with such likeability, but unless you’re completely tuned into its quirks and nuances then you could be left wondering what all the fuss is about and, although this lavish special edition will prove to be something of a prize collector’s item for the faithful, for those with just a casual or passing interest may find it all a little too underwhelming as watching two drunken buffoons lauding it around with little or no direction is really only amusing for so long before you realise there’s not actually a lot going on.

Withnail and I

Special Features: Limited edition 4-disc box set contains the following:

DISC ONE (Blu-ray) – 2K restoration of the film, audio commentary by director Bruce Robinson, audio commentary by film critic Kevin Jackson, 1999 Withnail Weekend documentaries, an appreciation by Sam Bain, interview with production designer Michael Pickwoad, theatrical trailer.

DISC TWO (Blu-ray) – How to Get Ahead in Advertising film, interview with production designer Michael Pickwoad, theatrical trailer.

DISC THREE (DVD) – As disc one.

DISC FOUR (DVD) – As disc two.

Exclusive limited edition hardback book packaging containing new writing on the film, reprints of key articles on the film, deleted scenes and more across 200 pages, illustrated with original production stills. Limited to 2,000 copies with four customizable choices of cover artwork.

UK Release Date: 10th November 2014

Arrow Films – Website

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