Withnail and I

From Academic Kids

Withnail and I is a cult British film made in 1987 by Handmade Films. Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, it details the lives of two resting (struggling) actors, who, confined to a flat in Camden Town through their financial difficulties, decide to take a holiday to the country. The narrative is told in the first person by the character played by Paul McGann, named in the script as Marwood, but never named as such in the movie - only credited as "& I".

It was Richard E. Grant's first film role and launched him into a successful career. Featuring performances by Richard Griffiths as Monty and Ralph Brown as Danny, the film has spawned many popular quotes.

Robinson's script is largely autobiographical. Marwood is Robinson; Withnail is based on a friend he shared a Camden house with - Vivian MacKerrell - who died young; and Uncle Monty is loosely based on the unwanted attentions he received from an amorous Franco Zeffirelli when he was a young actor [1] ( He lived in the impoverished conditions seen in the film and wore plastic bags as wellington boots. Robinson threw four or five years' of his real life into the script, condensing them into two weeks.

In many ways, the film is melancholy and deals with endings: the end of Withnail and Marwood's friendship, the end of the 1960s (the film begins with King Curtis performing Whiter Shade of Pale - King Curtis was murdered in August 1971; Danny's speech about selling hippie wigs in Woolworths), the beginning of the end for Withnail/ MacKerrell as he delivers Hamlet's soliloquy to a pack of wolves, the film is in part set amidst the demolition of parts of Camden at the beginning of the film.

In 2004 the magazine Total Film named Withnail and I the 13th greatest British film of all time.



During the filming of the scene in which the lighter fluid is consumed, Bruce Robinson changed the contents of the can, which had been filled with water, to vinegar. While the vomiting is scripted, the facial expression is purely natural.

Paul McGann was not first choice for the role of 'I'. Much like the casting of Harrison Ford in the role of Han Solo, McGann was employed to read in lines for other auditioning actors - it was only after a number of days the production team realised they had found 'I'.

Bruce Robinson has said that there are two lines in the script which had to be perfect. If the actors got them as he imagined then the film as a whole would work. One is the Policeman shouting 'Get in the back of the van' the other is Withnail saying 'You fucker'. The first time Grant did it Robinson began to roar with approval but Grant could never match the first take so the scene in the film is the first take but the rest of the scene is cut to cover the Director's outburst.

The original ending for the film was even more melancholy than the final piece. It had Richard E Grant returning to his flat after the moving Hamlet recital, taking out a shotgun, pouring a shot of wine into each barrel, downing them and shooting himself. Thought to be too depressing, this was axed.

The period setting of this film in 1969 is successful apart from Marwood packing a visibly late 1980s Penguin Classic in the penultimate scene. A much closer viewing, perhaps using the pause function of a DVD player, reveals several other, less obvious, anachronisms: in the first driving scene cars from the 1980s can be seen in the background, blue motorway signs dating from well after the sixties are also visible, while barcodes can be spotted on cans in the kitchen. However, given the film's low budget, the quality and accuracy of props and sets is generally very good.

Drinking Game

See Withnail and I drinking game.

There is a drinking game associated with Withnail & I, popular amongst fans. The game consists of keeping up, drink for drink, with each and every alcoholic (and other!) substance consumed by Withnail and Marwood over the course of the film.

Those without iron constitutions may simply drink their beverage of choice regardless of what the characters consume, though this is viewed by the more "hardcore" Withnail & I fans as an "easy way out."


The soundtrack for Withnail & I, while out of print now, was available on Silva Screen Records, Silva House, 261 Royal College Street, London NW1 9LU, England.


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