Withnail and I
A Handmade Films production
Produced by Paul Heller
Starring Richard E. Grant (Withnail), Paul McGann ("...and I"), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty)
Music by David Dundas and Rick Wentworth
Photographed by Peter Hannan
Co-Produced by David Wimbury
Executive Producers George Harrison and Denis O'Brien
Written and Directed by Bruce Robinson
Withnail and I is a fantastic British film made in 1985. It is a semi-autobiographical comedy about two out-of-work actors in the dying days of the 1960s. Withnail is a bitter alcoholic, spewing bile (and spew) at his friend Marwood. He is full of anger and frustrated indignation with all that he sees around him. Marwood is a budding writer and incredibly paranoid. They are broke, with no heat or food, living in a squalid house in Camden.
Seeing that their situation is a desperate one, they drive their battered Jaguar up to Penrith for a nice weekend in the countryside. However to facilitate this they have borrowed the cottage of Withnail's Uncle, Monty, who has designs on Marwood. Mix in setpieces with a poacher (Michael Elphick), a teashop ("We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!"), and the inimitable Danny the Dealer (Ralph Brown) and you get a consistently hilarious film where nothing of much import happens but every line of dialogue and all the timing is absolutely perfect.
The story originated from a novel that Robinson wrote 17 years previously, which was based upon his experiences. The Withnail character is based on Vivian McKerrell, an actor and close friend and one-time housemate of Robinson who died of throat cancer in 1990. The 'autobiographical' tag is a bit misleading, Robinson claims that the film is about "7 out of 10" based on real events, but re-cast and re-tooled to meet the needs of the story.
Everyone has their own favourite quotes from this film, and I will refrain from adding mine.
(Sorry, just one: "GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!" )
Please, go and watch the film and revel in its brilliance for yourselves.
Some more trivia (just like a RalphyK writeup!)
The movie opens to King Curtis's live saxophone rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Robinson wanted the movie to have this same 'bittersweet' quality. Curtis was murdered on the same night as this performance.
The same chicken is used in all of its scenes (alive and dead). Bruce Robinson features chickens in all of his screenplays, unintentionally, he claims.
In the scene in the teashop, when Withnail (Grant) says "We shall install a jukebox and liven all you stiffs up a bit," he cracks up. Robinson intended this line to be delivered deadpan, but Grant kept corpsing. If you look closely you can see Paul McGann break out of character for a second or two before the proprietor continues the scene.
Also, this scene was rehearsed (with the old lady extras in the background) without the swearing, and shot with the swearing included to get an authentic shock reaction.
Wishful-thinking fans might think that the Camberwell Carrot was based on actual events. It was in fact an invention (the Cincinnati Carrot) left over from a script Robinson was writing about a roadie.
Michael Maloney was given the part of 'I' but turned it down on the grounds that he thought the script was anti-black, anti-gay and anti-Irish.
The only line in the film that was directly taken from real life was Uncle Monty's line "Are you a sponge or a stone?", which was asked of a young, naive Robinson by the director Zefirreli. ("Two pounds ten a tit and a fiver for his arse!")
Sources: Smoking in Bed (conversations with Bruce Robinson), With Nails (film diaries if Richard E. Grant), The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson (Channel Four documentary). All of these I highly recommend.