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Withnail and I: The Criterion Collection

A cult film in England on the order of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Withnail and I's story, or non-story, is simple. Two struggling actors, the titular, unnamed narrator (Paul McGann) and Withnail (Richard E. Grant), who are on a drinking, non-eating jag, decide to take some time off from their decrepit Camden Town apartment and enjoy the rejuvenating pleasures of the country. They borrow the country shack of Withnail's libidinous gay uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths), but find that cottage is in worse shape than their own home, there is no food, and the rain never ceases. In the end, they return, the narrator to find that he has won an acting job, Withnail to descend further into outrage and dissolution. Withnail and I is more of a character study than a story, rooted in autobiography. Writer and director Bruce Robinson lived for a time in a grimy apartment with a crew of rogue hedonists. The "I" of the film is based both on Robinson himself and on a friend named Mickey Feast, while Withnail is based on Vivian MacKerrell, a not-very-aspiring actor now deceased (a half-hour documentary on this disc contains home-movie footage of these real life analogs.) From the film's first images Robinson betrays a sureness of touch and tone. Grant and McGann work extremely well together; the photography, for a low budget film, is excellent; the succession of scenes have an emotional logic that makes the tale feel seamless. But most of all, the dissipation is recognizable. Criterion has put together a striking package for their DVD release of Withnail and I. The letterboxed transfer (1.85:1) was supervised by cinematographer Peter Hannan, while audio is the original mono (Dolby Digital 1.0). The most significant supplement is the BBC's "Withnail & Us" documentary, produced in 1999. In addition, there are a gallery of photos by Ralph Steadman, the theatrical trailer, and inserts comprising an essay by Bruce Robinson and a poster by Ralph Steadman. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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