Blu-ray Review – Withnail & I (1987) / How To Get Ahead In Advertising (1989)


Withnail & I has been released yet again on Blu-Ray: this is the third UK release alone, and it seems we finally have the definitive version. It also includes the follow-up collaboration between director Bruce Robinson and star Richard E. Grant, How to Get Ahead in AdvertisingWithnail & I has been arguably one of the biggest cult films of all time, it even spawned an infamous drinking game.

Withnail & I is set during the tail end of the 1960s, and it perfectly captures the disillusionment to come during the 1970s. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I, Marwood (Paul McGann) are two out-of-work actors. Basically, they get fed up with their filthy London flat and drug problems and decide to go out to a cottage in the countryside. However, it rains non-stop, they have nothing to eat, and Withnail’s Uncle Monty shows up. Monty is a tad light in his loafers and has his eyes on Marwood. The trip will test their friendship.

The film remains one of the most quotable films to come out of the 1980s, even if it seems to come from an earlier time (the fact that it actually came out in 1986 always shocks me; Paul McGann has said he has had people come up to him and they are shocked to find out the film didn’t come out in the 60s or 70s.) The film is highly autobiographical; a lot of the situations depicted come out of director Bruce Robinson’s experiences as an actor during the 60s and 70s. Robinson’s experiences and brilliantly witty screenplay, two stand-out performances from the leads, and let’s not forget the supporting performances from Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty) and Ralph Brown (Danny the drug dealer), make it a unique and memorable film.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising came out two years after Withnail & I and is a extremely flawed him. It’s about a London advertising executive, Denis Dimbleby Bagley (Richard E. Grant), who has a crisis over the ethics of advertising. He becomes manic and develops a boil, which turns into a second head. It attempts to be a savage satire on the rise of Thatcherism in the 1980s, which Bruce Robinson was disgusted by. However, it is overwritten to the extreme, drags during the middle part and never is fully satisfying to the promise of the film’s intent or the brilliance of Withnail & I. Richard E. Grant gives a very good performance, but is lost in the mess that Bruce Robinson made of the film, but from what I gather there was some studio interference during the post-production stage. It does, however, have shades of Cronenberg-style body horror with the second head Grant’s Bagley develops.

Both films have been restored and approved by director of photography Peter Hannan, Withnail & I has a 2K transfer. The majority of the special features are includes on Withnail & I, commentaries from Bruce Robinson and critic Kevin Jackson are also included. The meat, however, is four documentaries that were part of a “Withnail Weekend” on Channel 4: the highlight is the 40-minute documentary on the career of Bruce Robinson. They’re also a couple of interviews with production designer Michael Pickwood on his work on both films and an interview with Sam Bain, the creator of Peep Show.

Ian Schultz

Withnail& I

[rating=2] 1/2
How To Get Ahead In Advertising