30 Cheers for Withnail & I!

Enjoying the rustic pleasures of country living…the 1987 trailer

hiccup…one of the best movies ever to shoot scene’s in Cumbria turned 30 this month…Bruce Robinson’s cult classic, which starred a fledgling Richard E. Grant as the booze-ridden Withnail and Paul McGann as the more reflective Marwood, (known only in the film as ‘I’) initially produced a modest UK return, grossing just over £560,000 on its release back in 1987. However, thanks to a wonderful script full of acerbic wit, along with standout performances from Grant and McGann, and the late Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty, (Withnail’s starry-eyed relative who literally throws himself at Marwood), the film has now enjoyed a thirty year lock-in. Plus, who can forget Danny (Ralph Brown) ‘Cool your boots man’, the drug dealer, who rolls mind-numbing nine skinners or Jake (Michael Elphick) the poacher, memorably christened a ‘silage heap’ by Withnail…

The film’s cult status was achieved largely through word-of-mouth recommendations by students in the late 80’s/early 90’s, and then latterly with the internet’s arrival came a growing number of websites dedicated solely to it. Since 2012, fans in Cumbria have toasted the added bonus of being able to attend annual pilgrimages at Crow Crag – Uncle Monty’s isolated cottage, where our heroes go on holiday by mistake (on the outskirts of Shap).

An expectant audience gather in Crow Crag’s courtyard for a Picnic Cinema screening

Here, devotees can drink-in the surroundings of their sozzled misfits to watch sold-out screenings courtesy of Picnic Cinema’s excellent programme of events.

So, to celebrate one of the finest cult film’s known to humanity, here is a compilation of 30 of the best quotes, facts & pieces of trivia…chin chin!

  1. Tagline No.1 – “You are invited to spend an hilarious weekend in the English countryside.”
  2. Tagline No.2 – “If you don’t remember the sixties, don’t worry – neither did they.”
  3. Writer & Director Bruce Robinson based the character of Withnail on his actor friend, Vivian MacKerrell, who shared a flat with him in the 1960’s. Although he always claimed none of the lines delivered by Withnail were actually ever spoken by Vivian…
  4. Robinson wrote the screenplay on an old Olivetti typewriter as the snow fell in the winter of 1969. An unemployed actor at the time, he was broke, desperate and badly missing his friend MacKerrell who (like ‘I’ leaves Withnail at the end of the film), had just left him, securing an acting job.
  5. After the project had been stuck in limbo for six years, one of the fab four, George Harrison got hold of the script and financially backed Robinson – eventually becoming an executive producer.
  6. The company Handmade Films that produced the film, was established by Harrison and Denis O’Brien in 1978 to finance Monty Python’s Life Of Brian after their original financers pulled out.
  7. O’Brien famously threatened to halt the film’s production on the first day of shooting – he didn’t think Grant or anything else was funny!
  8. Must have some booze? Why not have a go at the ‘Withnail and I Drinking Game‘… you just need to match Withnail drink-for-drink – to keep up you’ll down: nine & a half glasses of red wine, one pint of cider, one shot of lighter fluid, two and a half shots of gin, six glasses of sherry, thirteen whiskeys and a half pint of ale…hiccup!
  9. The film’s Penrith tearooms were, contrary to popular belief, not shot in Penrith at all. They were actually filmed just outside Milton Keynes in the small hamlet of Stony Stratford, at what is now a fine chemist – Cox & Robinson’s!

    The Penrith tea rooms – now a pharmacy at Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes.
  10. Withnail…”I’m 30 in a month and I’ve got a sole flapping from my shoe.” (Both of our anti-heroes are on the cusp of bidding farewell to their 20s in the film…)
  11. Some of Withnail’s other most quoted lines include the classic: “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now.”
  12. & my own favourite, “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”
  13. One of the extra features on the 2015 Blu-ray release is an appreciation of the film by British comedy writer Sam Bain, co-creator of Peep Show and Fresh Meat.
  14. Sleddale Hall, Wet Sleddale near Shap was used for Uncle Monty’s cottage (known as ‘Crow Crag’ in the film). It is thought to have been built in the 18th century, possibly on land once owned by Shap Abbey. Between 1740 and 1758 its owner was William Rawes, a Yeoman of Sleddale.
  15. Richard E. Grant turns 60 on 5th May 2017.
  16. In the scene where Withnail downs a bottle of lighter fluid, the can (which in rehearsals had been full of water) was full of vinegar. Robinson used vinegar on the take to get a better facial reaction from Grant.
  17. Robinson’s screenplay for Roland Joffe’s 1984 film The Killing Fields received an Oscar nomination.
  18. Withnail’s long Harris Tweed design coat was made by the Costume designer Andrea Galer, who incorporated cuffed sleeves and lined it with blue striped Indian silk, in order to “resemble a 19th-century riding coat”. cf1fb939-ea43-466a-87e4-b5690447a361-1365x2040
  19. Classic quote from Uncle Monty…”Oh my boys, my boys, we are at the end of an age! We live in a land of weather forecasts and breakfasts that set in, shat on by Tories, shovelled up by Labour, and here we are, we three; perhaps the last island of beauty… in the world…” Perhaps not that much has changed!
  20. The film is set in 1969 and not in the 1980’s when it was made.
  21. Marwood (the ‘I’) puts Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Against Nature (A Rebours) and Dickens’s David Copperfield in his suitcase at the end. A Rebours is known as the inspiration for the novel which slowly corrupts Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.
  22. Drug dealer Danny (Ralph Brown) responsible for the ‘Camberwell Carrot’ reprised his role in 1993’s Wayne’s World 2 as the roadie Del Preston.
  23. The Camberwell Carrot – “The only spliff to utilise 12 skins” was actually made with herbal cigarettes…
  24. Apparently Sir Kenneth Branagh wanted to play Withnail, but Robinson offered him the part of ‘I’ instead – which he subsequently turned down.
  25. Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty) died in March 2013 after heart surgery, aged 65. A fitting tribute was paid to the veteran British actor at the Oscars in 2014 – who devoted part of their traditional In Memoriam section to him.
  26. The photograph of Richard Griffiths in Uncle Monty’s Crow Crag, is a still from the TV film The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale (starring Dennis Waterman) in which he played a football manager and referee.
  27. Writing in his diary With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant (published in 1996), Grant describes his first impressions of Crow Crag…

    2nd August: Mini-bus together out to the location in Wet Sleddale, supposedly the wettest corner of the United Kingdom, through numerous gates, up a mountainside to an abandoned cottage on the water board estate. Perfect. Looks exactly like the script suggests.

  28. Robinson was paid a token £1 for the script.
  29. In 1999, the film was placed 29th in the BFI’s Top 100 list of the greatest British films of the 20th century.
  30. Read more about the film and many others made in Cumbria & the Lake District by clicking here.




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