http://www.timeout.com/london/bestbritishfilms/No15: 'Withnail and I'
Arguably, three years ago writer-director Bruce Robinson’s riotous black comedy – describing the misadventures of two recent ex-students/‘resting’ young actors in an unwelcoming north London – would have pipped ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ as the highest, rather than the second-highest-rated British comedy in our poll. At that point, the ‘Withnail & I’ fan club was at its bibulous height, with its ardent admirers, word-perfect in Robinson’s semi-autobiographical script, meeting in Camden pubs to swap quotes and play the DVD-extra drinking games (though, more properly, they should have frequented tea shops, demanding ‘the finest wines available to humanity!’). At auction, Withnail’s ragged Harris check coat went to Chris Evans for £8,000 and the leather worn by Marwood – for he is ‘I’ – was bought by Danny Baker. In 2000, Total Film readers voted it the third best comedy of all time.
That said, ‘Withnail & I’ was no instant success: it managed a paltry three-week run on its opening and, including its 2007 UK Film Council remastered re-release, has only grossed £1.5million in British cinemas. Robinson has said the film’s mid-1980s production for Handmade Films almost made him as penurious as his hero: having to provide £30,000 of his own cash to film Richard E Grant and Paul McGann on their fateful trip in their clapped-out Jaguar MK2 to the Lake District. But if, initially, ‘Withnail & I’ was a cult success, built up on video and DVD viewing, our poll shows it now has a solid place in British viewers’ hearts; its inspirationally funny script, spot-on performances and evocative soundtrack, helping to combine a gloriously mocking elegy for Britain’s supposedly Swingin’ Sixties with a moving, bittersweet distillation of personal memory and of friendship recalled. WH