Classic Rewatch

Withnail and I

Celebrating Richard E. Grant’s 63rd birthday with some quintessential British humour. 

“I think we’ve been in here too long. I feel unusual.” This classic line from Withnail and I has perhaps never been more relevant than now, which makes it perfect timing for a Lockdown Rewatch as we celebrate Richard E. Grant’s 63rd birthday (the alternative was to have a lot of booze). The 1987 British black comedy about a couple of out of work thesps who go on holiday by mistake has been described by the BBC as, “one of Britain’s biggest cult films”. Starring Grant as Withnail, Paul McGann as I (or Marwood, if rumour is to be believed), and the late Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty. Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, the film has had a lasting legacy on noted film makers such as David Fincher, Shane Black, and even Paul Rudd who described Grant’s portrayal as the quick witted, drunken thespian as, “a tremendous acting lesson”.

But did you know…

1) The film was adapted by Robinson from an unpublished novel he had written in 1969. It was based on his own experiences as an unemployed actor in London (with Robinson being I, and his friend and fellow actor, Vivian MacKerrell being the basis for Withnail). In 2015 Robinson’s early draft of the novel was sold at an auction for £8,125.

2) Paul McGann was hired for the role of I only to be fired due to his accent, Robinson recalls, “He would not lose that Scouse accent. I kept saying to him, ‘You’ve got to dump it, Paul. You’re meant to be a lower-middle-class boy who’s gone to drama school, and you can’t speak like that.” Eventually McGann, who dropped the accent, was re-hired. 

3) Grant had to audition four times for the role of Withnail. Robinson was unhappy with his weight and told him, “Half of you has to go.” Grant called Gary Oldman for advice on how to lose weight quickly, and was told to buy protein shakes from Boots, the chemist. He got the part, beating out the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, and even Daniel Day-Lewis.

4) WIthnail is famed for his alcohol consumption, to the point that there is an (unofficial) drinking game for the film. The rules? Every time Withnail drinks, you drink. Easy! Unless you are Richard E. Grant who, it may surprise you, is alcohol intolerant!