Eye For Film >> Movies >> Withnail And I (1986) DVD Review
Withnail And I
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe MurrayRead Jeff Robson's film review of Withnail And I
Commentaries are better done by one person. When there are more, the tendency is to chatter, make conversation and forget about the film. It's not that bad here, but McGann and Brown tend to wander off and crack jokes. Whose complaining?
There are lovely asides, dropped in casually. Bruce Robinson's favourite film is Gold Rush. Richard E Grant got the part because he said "Fork it!" with more venom than anyone else ("Fork it!" refers to whatever lives in the sink). Chris Evans paid £8000 for Withnail's overcoat. McGann had only had a driving licence for three weeks before filming started. He was responsible for the deep scratch along the side of the right front door of the Jag.
The first scenes were shot in the cottage. McGann had never done a film before and he was standing there in almost pitch blackness with a single paraffin lamp in his hand. He asked the cameraman, "Where are the lights?", and the cameraman said, "You're holding it." When Denis O'Brien, who was keeping an eye on production for George Harrison and Handmade Films, saw the first rushes, he wanted to close the movie down. He thought Withnail should be played in the style of Kenneth Williams. He hated the mood and found none of it funny. "All comedy should be brightly lit," he said. Robinson stood his ground and told him that it had to be done his way, or he walked. Reluctantly, O'Brien relented.
The flat was in Westbourne Grove, not Camden. The sink scene, where they finally attack the dirty dishes, took two days to shoot. "We said those lines 50 or 60 times," McGann remembers.
There was praise for Griffiths ("He's such a warm actor") and admiration for Grant ("He spits his lines"). Withnail has become a national institution,
"Johnny Depp did Withnail in Sleepy Hollow."
"Rather well, actually."
And how was it for the boss?
"Bruce was flying, arriving at Westbourne Grove with a flask of vodka at eight in the morning."
The documentary includes a selection from Robinson's home movies, showing snatches of his life in the Sixties when he shared a flat with a group of unemployed writers, artists and actors, including David Dundas and Michael Feast. "A lot of drinking, a lot of drug taking." And not much washing up.
A number of people, not connected with the film talk about its impact on them, including two students who admit to having seen it 50 times. They're great.
Robinson was determined to get Grant drunk, which was quite a cruel thing to do, since he never touched the stuff. It happened and he was sick. It made no difference to his performance.
Ralph Steadman's photographs are of McGann and Grant fooling about in an empty bath.Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2001