Bruce Robinson’s film about two resting actors thrown together in London at the fag end of the 1960s, didn’t make much of an impression at the box office when it was released in 1988. But a few years later it became a hit on video, with copies being passed around teenagers and students, who watched it repeatedly until the tape began to jump and fade.
As time went on, many of the film’s quotable lines – ‘I demand to have some booze!’; ‘We’ve come on holiday by mistake’ – slipped into common usage. And ‘Withnail’ only gets better with time. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also tender and sad too, from the arresting sound of Procul Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ in the opening scene to the final, rainy farewell between Withnail (Richard E Grant) and his unnamed friend (revealed as ‘Marwood’ in the screenplay and played by Paul McGann) in the last scene in Regent’s Park.
Already a curious mix of acerbic and wistful, the film carries an even sadder air since the death of the late, great Richard Griffiths, who steals the show as the desperate, repressed and out-of-time Uncle Monty.