99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
Somewhere in the tenebrous recesses of our souls is the saving ability to laugh in recognition at our most forlorn circumstances. The funniest films mine this trove of despairing exigencies in an urgent, played-for-real mode. And none do it better than WITHNAIL & I, now available in a superb uncut version on DVD.
Bruce Robinson, the sometime actor and screenwriter ("The Killing Fields"), made his 1986 directorial debut with his semi-autobiographical screenplay that is widely considered the greatest neglected comedy of all time. The slender plot is simple. Flatmates Richard E. Grant (Withnail) and Paul McGann (& I) are two stoned, hungry, broke, and out-of-work actors wallowing in self-made squalor. When they get an opportunity to spend a weekend in the country cottage of Withnail's three hundred pound Uncle Montague, they go, hoping to "rejuvenate." What ensues is an extraordinarily deranged weekend of drunken delusion and distraught discovery that you will never forget. To reveal any more story details would be a gross disservice to those who have not yet found this wonderfully twisted, honest and perfect film.
Richard Griffiths is unsettling as the campy, dissolute predator cousin Montague and Ralph Brown is spot-on as Danny, the slow-talking, menacing but philosophical dope dealer. Hard to believe this was Richard E. Grant's first film. Even harder to believe is that he is a non-drinker who doesn't smoke.
Perfectly cast, nearly every spoken line is unfiltered emotional truth and most are quotable -- especially the caustic diatribes of drunken, acerbic Grant. And the scenes themselves are brilliant set-pieces that unfold like diamonds in the rough being cut to gem-stone perfection.
After experiencing this unblinking look back at the end of the 60s in a London suburb where a tenuous friendship, high expectations and unfulfilled dreams collide during a disastrous weekend getaway, you too will laugh when you next hear the opening riffs of Jimmy Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." And you will understand when someone blurts out in a restaurant, "We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them NOW!. And cake."
This new Criterion widescreen version is clean and sharp and there's a too-short bonus interview with Robinson, Brown, Grant and McGann.
You must trust me on this one, so right now, get on line and order this extraordinary movie. It's one to own and watch at least once a month. It will put everything in the proper perspective and cure what ails you. Highest recommendation.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Criterion has done a wonderful job with this DVD release of WITHNAIL & I. The picture looks sharp, the sound is clear, and the extras are a lot of fun. The biggest difference for me was that the only video version of this film I owned was the full-screen version that contains numerous edits. Watching this film uncut for the first time in years really pointed out how much I had been missing with the video version. Getting this DVD is definitely worth the money.
The film itself is a joy to experience. While the plot cannot be accused of being overcomplicated, this simplicity is more than made up for in the wonderful characters and brilliant dialogue (virtually none of which can be quoted in an all-ages forum such as this). Loosely narrated by Paul McGann's "I" character, this film depicts a brief period in the life of two struggling actors as they attempt to find booze, drugs and jobs in the dying days of the 1960s. The movie covers a wide spectrum from some scenes featuring the funniest lines that you'll ever hear to small touching moments that are surprisingly moving. This is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys good moviemaking.
Every character in the picture is superbly acted and written for. It's a testament to Bruce Robinson's directing skills that the characters compliment each other so well instead of clashing and overbearing the others as could so easily have happened. The secondary characters work as well as the leads and each one adds their unique flavour to the mixture. Robinson doesn't make the mistake of giving the smaller parts too much on-screen time and having them overstay their welcome. Each character says and does no more than they need to and leaves everyone wanting more.
Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann are perfectly cast in their roles. Each bile-covered insult roles off of Grant's tongue as if he'd been swearing at McGann all his life. It's amazing that Grant is a teetotaler in real life and was relying on pure skill for most of his inspiration. Excellent acting.
The documentary that is included on the DVD is 30 minutes long and quite excellent. There are interviews with Richard E. Grant (Withnail), Paul McGann (...& I), Bruce Robinson (writer/director), Ralph Brown (Danny) and a host of other people related to the production. It's a funny and enthralling look at the people and ideas behind the film. Just fast-forward through the trainspotters.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2007
This is not, as others have mentioned merely a vapid view of the 1960s or a drunken homoerotic frolic in an English countryside. It represents all those men and women who have battled long and hard to achieve some sort of authenticity. Withnal wants to act in something worth while, 'I' wants to do the same but has much more class and is not locked into a decaying and fluid so called post modern world, represented by collapsing buildings they both visit and live in, decayed old pubs inhabited by violent drunken louts who want to hurt and maim in their pain of loss. Then there is their old Jaguar one eye one window wiper and two very drunk survivors. This is a meditation on the qualities of past values and modern chaos. The end leaves one sad and uncomfortable as Withnal speaks from Shakespeare 'what a piece of work is man', the irony is almost too hard to bear as Withnal speaks to a wolf behind the zoo bars and as rain upon rain washes away the old world. This a film everyone should watch and is for anyone who wonders about the old, the nostalgia for the past and the new modern and careless world of today. The wolf pacing in front of the zoo bars mirrors the human pacing outside the fence, both are locked into their worlds. Withnal is beautiful in his aloneness and 'I' works to represent those that can make transitions from old values to new worlds, but does he lose something in the process? The musis is also fantastic and I wish I could buy and album of the music, the initial saxaphone rendition of a whiter shade of pale is beyond beautiful. Watch it at least 10 times.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Withnail & I is one of the greatest films ever made - funny, poignant and superbly written, acted and directed.
So, it is such an appalling shame that this NTSC VHS version is so poor. It is hideously cut in places leaving out parts of scenes and some of the funniest dialogue. This leaves you confused when the narrative shifts suddenly when you were expecting the uncut version. For me, this rendered this version unwatchable.
Buy a PAL compatible VHS player and buy the uncut European version from amazon.co.uk, wait for the DVD or wait for the full version to be shown on the Independent Film Channel and record it, but stay away from this turkey!
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2001
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Another cult movie has just entered the Criterion collection : british writer-director Bruce Robinson's 1986 WITHNAIL AND I starring Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, both excellent. Richard Griffith as the cousin Montague and Ralph Brown as " The Hippie Philosopher " are hilarious. This film is a valuable addition to your library if you like english comedies, the sixties or simply a smart movie.
WITHNAIL AND I is greatly autobiographical. Bruce Robinson's 25 minutes interview featuring home movies and photographies shot in London in the mid-sixties is very instructive ; one understands soon that Withnail and ("I") Peter's life pictured in the movie has been the normal life of a large number of the english teenagers of the sixties. The character of "Withnail" played by an hallucinated Richard E. Grant, who in the real life doesn't drink alcoholic beverages, will certainly stay in the annals of Movie History.
If WITHNAIL AND I moves us so much, it's because this nostalgic movie is about lost hopes, about the green pastures of our youth when the world was ready to be conquered and waiting for us. Withnail is a pathetic character who could have been a genius in any artistic domain but who didn't create anything because, after all, it wasn't so important.
Apart of the Bruce Robinson interview ( look carefully at the level of the red wine in his glass... ), one will also find in this Criterion presentation a limited-edition of a poster, a theatrical trailer, liner notes by Robinson, various pre-production photos and english subtitles.
A DVD zone nostalgy.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2002
Despite claiming use of the latest techniques, the video quality and sound mix is poor. Letterbox is used for the main feature, already cutting resolution. The colours are washed out and the picture lacks contrast.
The 5.1 sound was handled quite badly, with voices inappropriately appearing in the rear (not only when narrating) and a lot of hiss. I've heard much better sound on movies much older.
The (good) extra documentary was in anamorphic widescreen, giving the main feature itself an even more bedraggled appearance.
Unfortunately, it will probably be some time before a better version appears. This is a well-loved movie which deserves far better treatment.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Quite frankly this is the greatest tragi-comic film of all time. The image of Richard E. Grant swigging from a bottle of claret, watching caged wolves and so-on and so-forth, moves me to tears. Bruce Robinson, 'I love you and want to bear your little babies'. And as for Uncle Monty, well isn't he delicious? The only thing that could add to my already replete viewing ecstacy, would be for this to be brought out on DVD; so please, chaps, do it for me. All in all, at the end of the day, Withnail and I is the way forward...
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2006
"They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworth's, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is coming to an end and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black."
Two highly educated actors, obviously descended from a wealthier class, wallow in an amazing amount of squalor in the early 1970's. This is more than an incredibly funny story about loveable losers, the original (and far more hilarious) Dumb and Dumber. This is about opportunities, about real talent, and about just wasting it away.
Danny, the ultimate loser, describes the spiral of waste and despair perfectly: "If you are holding onto a rising balloon you are presented with a difficult political decision - let go while you've still got the chance or hold onto the rope and continue getting higher."
But one of the two, Marwood, seems to sense on a basic level the need to let go of the balloon, to let go of drug-induced wretchedness. He is the one who gets them out of London, and ultimately confronts the choice of moving on.
As I look around me at the moral wasteland of modern American conservatism, riddled with corruption, scandal, incredible wasteful spending, mounting debts, senseless foreign wars and nation building, I have to wonder if many on the right will look at the days after 9/11 and wonder if we have, once again, seen an opportunity to make something truly memorable, and failed to paint it black.
When America, like Marwood, eventually moves on, I suspect it'll be just as bittersweet as the ending of this film.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2003
This absolutely brilliant 1987 film was an instant cult hit in its native England and has slowly gained devotees on this side of the pond. Writer-director Bruce Robinson captures the zeitgeist surrounding the "death" of the 1960's with his story of two impoverished actors who slog through "swinging" 1969 London with high hopes and low squalor. Richard E. Grant's turn as the decadently wasted Withnail is unforgettable, ably supported by the "I" of the title, Paul McGann. Reminiscent of "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas", but with a more wry British approach to substance-fueled paranoia. The two flatmates, desperate for a break from thier cramped, heatless apartment, take a road trip to the "country" (remember the "locals" in "Straw Dogs"?), and harrowing hilarity ensues. There are so many great lines, you might as well put quotation marks at the beginning and end of the script! Despite what some whiney reviewers have said, the Criterion edition is the best print I've ever seen of this movie. Even director Bruce Robinson candidly admits that it was "badly filmed"-that's just the way the movie looks and sounds, folks, deal with it! By the way, Bruce Robinson can be seen in a rare acting role in the excellent 1999 film "Still Crazy", playing a mysterious Syd Barrett type guitarist (I didn't realize it was him until I saw the interview segment included on the "Withnail" DVD and recognized him right away as the founder of "Strange Froot"!).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Withnail and I is the kind of movie that has a huge cult following over here in Britain, although surprisingly there are still many people who haven't seen it. It concerns two out-of-work actors, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann), who take a weekend break in a cottage on loan from Withnail's uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). Whilst there everything that could go wrong does, leading to a peculiarly fitting conclusion.
The humour is undoubtedly caustic as well as being undeniably British in its sharp take on situation comedy. This is probably best summed up by saying that you don't know whether you should be sympathetic for the characters or laugh at them. Despite this biting humour though, which in itself makes it worth a watch, the excellent acting is obviously of note. Richard E. Grant is one of the those actors that everyone has seen in one or two films but can't really figure out why he's so famous. Well this is it. His performance as Withnail is the kind of career-defining performance that is all too hard to come by. He manages to express comedy, self-loathing, bitterness and humanity in what is perhaps one of the most realistic performances of the 80's. Of course, Paul McGann's performance never really launched him into the stratosphere, although on many counts it's hard to see why: although in a much less showy role than Grant, he is just as good in the role that he plays as the more sympathetic 'I' of the title.
All in all this is a movie that once seen will not be forgotten. In addition to being completely original, very very funny in an unconventional way, it comes complete with heart (particularly in the end) and is a genuine cult film that thoroughly deserves its status.