Reviews

Withnail And I: 20th Anniversary Edition

5

They’re in a park and they’re practically dead... For those uninitiated into the terrible cult, that’s Withnail (Richard E Grant) and ‘I’ (Paul McGann), two non-jobbing thesps shambling around a cancerous Camden Town at the fag-end of the ‘60s. Marooned in the perpetual mud of Penrith, their plan is to “rejuvenate”. The reality: paranoia, hunger, hangover, bulls and near-buggerings.

A theatrical stiff, Withnail found its second life on home video in the late ‘80s. Partly down to students swooning over the waster chic, but mostly thanks to writer/director Bruce Robinson’s erudite yet spectacularly profane dialogue (“My heart’s beating like a fucked clock!”).

Most of the extras are directly shipped over from the previous release, with Robinson’s presence by far the most special thing about the edition. Sadly, his lively interview is in sharp contrast to the soporific, overly prompted yak-track. Off the booze and on-camera, he’s sparkling company, brimming with wit and slinging plenty of shit over the torturous shoot – particularly the catfights with Handmade Films’ honcho Dennis O’Brien (“He absolutely hated it...”) and the glorious tale of how he fired a publicist who arranged a screening for a bunch of non-English-speaking students (“I was fucking levitating with rage!”)

Another highlight is the good-naturedly geeky Postcards From Penrith featurette: the perfect antidote to the misplaced passion of the gloating quoters on doc Withnail And Us.

But strip away the quotey bits (all of it), the Camberwell Carrot (“...utilises up to 12 skins”), the chicken (“How do we make it die?”), the farmer, the poacher, the attempted burglary, and you’re left with a bittersweet, bullishly unsentimental film about the fragile contradictions of male friendship. Chin chin...

 

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