Plot: What’s it about?
Marwood (Paul McGann) and his friend Withnail (Richard E. Grant) are unemployed actors who drown their troubles with whatever they can get their hands on, from booze to drugs to lighter fluid, if need be. Marwood can be offbeat at times, but Withnail is a total madman and is more off the wall than anyone could even dream of, I assure you. He is loud, abrasive, and concocts strange ideas, but he is also sometimes likable, at least to a select few people. When the two decide some time is needed away from their urban based lives, Withnail suggests they trek to the countryside, to a cottage owned by his Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). But this vacation of sorts turns into real trouble, thanks to constant rain, scared neighbors, lack of foreign substances, and of course, the two men and their total lack of survival skills. As time passes, the two become more desperate for food, proper clean clothes, and other stuff, as the bond of their friendship is tested, time and again. Will these two unusual men be able to cope with life in this country cottage, or will they go mad in the time that’s supposed to be reserved for relaxation?
I was thrilled to learn that Criterion was handling this title on disc, but as it turns out, the results are somewhat mixed, if you ask me. The video is better than on previous edition, though it lacks the expected anamorphic enhancement, but on the other hand, the disc has some positives as well. The audio is clean and well presented, some nice extras have been included, and of course, the film is presented in uncut form, which is good news indeed. Even with an imperfect treatment however, Withnail and I is too great of a film to miss, that much is certain. Richard E. Grant turns in a simply classic performance that is alone worth the price of admission, to be sure. Grant is joined by Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, and Ralph Brown, among others and all the cast seems to be in fine form indeed. I never tire of the humor in Withnail and I, as it has so many great lines and Grant is so perfect in his role, while Bruce Robinson’s direction ensures it all remains woven together. I simply cannot recommend Withnail and I enough and while this disc has some flaws, it is still well worth a rental or purchase, if you ask me.
If I were asked to name my top ten favorite performances, Richard E. Grant would be named in there, for his incredible work on Withnail and I. He seems so natural in this quirky role, from the outrageous dialogue to the off balance mannerisms, Grant never falters here and that is very impressive indeed. I could watch his work here a million times over and never tire of it, he is that fantastic and powerful, truly amazing work. I’ve liked many of Grant’s performances, but this really was the performance of a lifetime and his finest work. No one could have delivered all these timeless lines as well as him, if you ask me. You can also see Grant in such films as Hudson Hawk, Spice World, The Serpent’s Kiss, The Little Vampire, and How to Get Ahead in Advertising. The cast also includes Paul McGann (Empire of the Sun, Paper Mask), Ralph Brown (Amistad, Diamond Skulls), and Richard Griffiths (Sleepy Hollow, Shanghai Surprise).
Video: How does it look?
Withnail and I is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. I am let down by the lack of anamorphic treatment, but this is the best I’ve seen the film look, so I won’t complain too much. I was displeased by the presence of edge enhancement however, as well as some other small problems, which would have been erased by a solid anamorphic transfer. This movie wasn’t made on a massive budget either, which means it simply isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and shows more grain than I’d like, but the lack of added resolution only serves to multiply all these small errors. Most of the time however, this is a more than solid visual treatment and an improvement over the laserdisc, which should please fans. The colors are stable, flesh tones natural, and contrast is even handed, all the bases here are covered. I do wish this was an anamorphic widescreen transfer to be sure, but this is a nice step forward from the old laserdisc, so fans will still want to upgrade for the improved image here.
Audio: How does it sound?
This movie is fueled by dialogue and as such, the included mono option is more than adequate, I think. Of course, you won’t want to showcase your audio system with it, but it handles the material and that’s what counts, once the chips have been laid down. The track seems pretty clean and shows minimal age signs, which is always good news. The music and various sound effects come through well enough, but due to the material and limits of the mono format, you won’t be overly impressed by either of the elements. The dialogue is crisp and well presented at all times, with no volume errors to report. This disc also includes English subtitles, in case you decide that you’ll need those at some point.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main draw here is Withnail and Us, a twenty-five minute behind the scenes featurette, complete with interviews of all sorts. Bruce McDonald, the director is the main participant, but the cast members also share their thoughts on both the ideas behind the film and the production itself, making this a great overall piece. I do wish it was longer, but the time is well spent and as such, you’ll learn a lot about Withnail and I, to be sure. This disc also includes some preproduction photos from Ralph Steadman, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.