Between Paul McGann’s creeping panic to the plaintive strains of King Curtis and Richard E Grant’s defeated, rain-sodden soliloquy to the wolves, Withnail And I is probably the most consistently funny tragedy ever made.
It’s the fag end of the ’60s, and an air of mournful regret and aching poignancy hangs over the entire jet-black farce. From wrecking balls demolishing Camden through Uncle Monty’s (Richard Griffiths) yearning for the theatrical validation he never received, to Danny the Dealer’s
(Ralph Brown) indignation at “hippy wigs in Woolworths,” it’s all about things ending; a tale where ambitions, ideals and even friendships are fleeting indulgences to be briefly grasped and treasured only in hindsight.
The curse of Withnail And I is that it’s a victim of its own success – its reputation has become one of quotations bled dry through repetition and Student Unionboozy, pharmaceutical excess.
And from the moment the menu appears, juxtaposing Withnail’s gurning face with an animated shopping list of the alcohol consumed during the movie, it’s clear this Blu-ray edition isn’t about to change that skewed perspective.
Recycling all the features from the Anniversary Edition DVD , it spends almost as much time indulging the fans as talking about the film. The nadir is the double whammy of the drinking game featurette, which misses the point almost as spectacularly as encouraging Fight Club fans to punch their mates in the face, and a ‘swear-a-thon’ which cuts all the expletives together, butchering the foul-mouthed poetry of writer-director Bruce Robinson’s dialogue for cheap laughs.
Thank goodness for the commentaries, then, which mix anecdotes with insight, and remind us there’s more to the film than swearing, drinking and the vicarious thrill of somebody else’s squalor.
So with no new features, and the existing material still presented in its boxy standard definition, it falls to the HD presentation to justify this quadruple-dip release.
The audio is more than up to the task but the visuals are far from benchmark quality; there’s a notable difference between interior scenes, which
are as detailed and crisp as you’d expect, and anything shot in exterior locations, which carry a fuzzy softness around the edges.
So when the previous DVD is cheaper (and boasts a soundtrack CD ) you really don’t need this perfunctory re-release unless you’re desperate for a slightly improved picture.
An absolutely marvellous, timeless Brit flick – but the Blu-ray offers no compelling reason to upgrade for a fourth time.