Withnail And I

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Read Jeff Robson's film review of Withnail And I

Define cult classic and you define Withnail And I, one of the best and most quoted British films ever made. Now, 20 years on, fans of Bruce Robinson’s masterpiece about two ‘resting’ actors get the anniversary treatment.

The film itself is a new digitally remastered widescreen presentation that brings an added clarity to the picture and depth to the dark and dankness, whilst still keeping the film lovably rough around the edges. Beyond that Anchor Bay have essentially added to their 2001 release's extras, all of which are included here: the Paul McGann and Ralph Brown commentary was always enjoyable serviceable, as was the 5.1 Dolby Digital track (with DTS is added here now). The 1999 documentary Withnail And Us remains, with assorted cast, fans and minor celebs sharing their thoughts and fascinations. Robinson’s sharp contributions were always the most revealing and engrossing. The original trailer and Ralph Steadman’s onset stills are still here, too.

Copy picture

Postcards from Penrith is the first new featurette. Two London lads head up north to visit various locations, including that phone box and, eventually, the poignantly run-down cottage. It’s cheap, cheerful digicam work that makes for an enjoyable if light 20 minutes.

The Drinking Game featurette takes on the cult phenomenon of fans swigging booze whenever the characters do, preferably the same drinks as well. Could have been a fun piece but unfortunately this is a wasted opportunity, presented by a supposedly alco-addled ‘actor’ who introduces the idea and then drinks to the clips. He is neither a convincing drunk - nor actor for that matter - just insultingly irritating. At least the limited edition steel tin will keep your discs protected from the inevitable spillages if you actually give the game a go.

The brief Swear-a-thon is a start-to-finish montage all the cussing throughout. You cannot watch it without laughing.

A new interview with Robinson is the first real treat. For about a quarter of an hour the undisputed authority on the film waxes intelligent and scalpel-sardonic about the “lucky” production. He is still venting acidic spleen at producer Denis O'Brien, who just never ‘got’ the film and nearly closed it down. Robinson is candid about how he very nearly walked away. Great.

The anniversary’s pièce de résistance is the long-awaited Robinson feature commentary. Spurred on by a few prompts here and there to keep him on track the writer-director doesn’t disappoint. Always interesting, anecdote, tale and fact spill forth from start to finish - such as how close Bill Nighy was to getting the Withnail role; how during the “scrubbers!” sequence the real police pulled the leads over and Richard E Grant legged it for fear of being deported back to South Africa; how Franco Zeferelli’s stalking of Robinson both disturbed him and contributes to one of the film’s memorable scenes; and so on.

Ok, real fans will have heard and read some of this before, but there’s still considerable attraction and satisfaction in hearing Robinson himself telling you again. This is the commentary Withnail needed - this is the commentary that makes watching it for the 50th time, feel like a first.

Some of the features are not the greatest but the separate CD's original soundtrack, from David Dundas and Rickwentworth, does add to the package. Nevertheless, it’s Robinson’s characteristically commanding commentary makes this an essential for any fan.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2006
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Withnail And I packshot
The cult film about the adventures of two out-of-work actors on holiday in the Lake District gets a big screen re-issue.
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Read more Withnail And I disc reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray: DVD

Product Code: ABD4617

Region: 2

Ratio: Remastered 1.78:1 widescreen

Sound: Stereo 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS

Extras: Commentary by Bruce Robinson, commentary by Paul McGann & Ralph Brown, new Bruce Robinson interview, ‘Postcards from Penrith’, ‘Withnail & Us’, drinking game, swear-a-thon, behind the scenes still, original trailer, original soundtrack

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