Withnail and I – 4k UHD BLU-RAY

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The old adage that you should write what you know about saw Bruce Robinson turning in a script that would become, ‘Withnail and I’.....

The lot of the actor is a largely unhappy one – endless auditions, waiting for the phone to ring and frustration that you’re not getting the roles you should be getting and then finding that the role has been taken by some feckless tosspot from a reality TV  show or worse still an ‘influencer’! That was largely what Bruce Robinson was finding having trained as an actor he grew disillusioned and began writing. He lucked out with producer David Puttnam optioning his script for 1985’s The Killing Fields that saw Robinson Oscar nominated for Best Screenplay eventually losing out to Amadeus. But that old adage that you should write what you know about saw the now writer turning to his time as a jobbing actor in a script that would become ‘Withnail and I’.

Set in Camden Town at the arse-end of the sixties the film saw two struggling, unemployed actors decide some respite was is in order and so depart the squalor of their miserable flat for a week in the Lake District – one that will involve rain, booze, minimal supplies, a randy bull and an even more randy Uncle Monty.

Robinson was given the opportunity to the film too and cast then unknown Ricard E Grant as Withnail and the actor went on a protein shale diet to lose more weight and give him a  gaunt haggard look. But he was not first choice. Daniel Day Lewis was top of the list but turned it down as did Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and even Eddie Tenpole-Tudor. It would be a star making role for Grant as the vitriolic drunk ( no mean feat for Grant as he was, and is, teetotal) spitting out some of the greatest lines committed to celluloid and eminently quotable forever afterwards

Paul Mc Gann would be cast as Marwood, the ‘I’ of the film’s title and was fired during rehearsal’s as he was using his natural Liverpool accent which Robinson didn’t think suited toe role and other actors were now auditioned but McGann won the role back when he showed he could affect a Home Counties accent. McGann’s  was the less showy of the roles but the success of the film saw him cast by Spielberg in Empire of the Sun in 1987.

The third role pivotal to the film was Uncle Monty as the uproarious homosexual quite brilliantly played by the late, great Richard Griffith’s vying with Grant’s Withnail for the film’s most demonstrative performance and became a role that he was forever associated. It was a role inspired and partly based on Franco Zefferelli who Robinson had worked for as an actor on Romeo & Juliet swerving the directors advances and many of Uncle Monty’s lines are purportedly from his time on set.

Honorable mention should also be given to Ralph Brown as Danny the local drug dealer delivering his lines in the most extraordinary patois and purveyor of the film’s legendary Camberwell carrot – a massive spliff that had to be rolled by one of the crew on the film with hippy credentials.

Financed by George Harrisons’ Handmade Films Withnail and I was released on 27th March 1987  after a disastrous test screening but only because it had been shown to a coach load of German tourists who didn’t understand English and remained stony faced. Costing $1.1m the film earned $1.7m at the box office but its cult status was assured when students worldwide took the film to heart. With the films poster from the superb pen of Ralph Steadman, an artist who could make art look rock n roll and an understanding of the sort of lifestyle Withnail led as Steadman had spent much time with gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson. The poster is rightly used for the packaging here.

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by director of photography Peter Hannan
    • 4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
    • Original lossless mono soundtrack
    • Optional lossless 5.1 soundtrack
    • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
    • Audio commentary by writer-director Bruce Robinson • Audio commentary by critic and writer Kevin Jackson, author of the BFI Modern Classic on Withnail & I
    • All four original Withnail Weekend documentaries, first screened on Channel 4 in 1999, including The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson, which looks at the director’s career, Withnail & Us, which focuses on the film’s making, and two shorter documentaries, I Demand to Have Some Booze and Withnail on the Pier
    • Interview with production designer Michael Pickwoad
    • An appreciation of Withnail & I by Sam Bain, co-creator of Peep Show and Fresh Meat
    • Archival interview with Bruce Robinson
    • Theatrical trailer
    • Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring two choices of original artwork
    • Limited edition perfect bound book featuring writing on the film by Vic Pratt, Anthony Nield, Martin Jones, Neil Mitchell and Mike Sutton

For the uninitiated Withnail and I is an unforgettable experience and is one the most quotable British films ever made and this 4K UHD restoration captures the grim squalor of the setting, the vivacious performances and the sheer joy of good actors relishing their lines. The discs bonus features for the film are nearly all essential with the director’s  commentary from Robinson being the standout. The documentaries are a must and the appreciation of the film by Peep Show writer Sam Bain is good too. Perhaps what is does miss is an interview with the two stars looking back on the film with their own personal recollections. But that aside Withnail and I remains one of the great British films of modern times and set an impossibly high bar for Robinson. His follow up film, ‘How to get Ahead in Advertising’ was a swipe at the industry again starring rant but did capture the same audience but still has razor sharp lines with a decent premise. Robinson, to date, has only directed four films 1992’s serial killer film ‘Jennifer Eight’ and 2011’s ‘The Rum Diary’ but is purportedly in pre-production on a new film and TV series. But Withnail and I remains his masterwork and rightly so truly earning its place as one of the greatest of cult films.

related feature : Daniel O’Reilly (Dapper Laughs) talks Bermondsey Tales, stand up comedy and being cancelled!

related feature : The Crow 30th Anniversary Edition – 4kUHD / BLU-RAY

Here’s the Withnail and I trailer…..

Withnail and I is released on 4k UHD BLU-RAY on 24th June 2024 

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