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Saturday

warm up? we may as well sit round this cigarette

In the UK at least it doesn't get much more cult than Withnail and I. Written by the frequently hilarious (occasionally disgusting) Bruce Robinson this film documents the plight of two unemployed, but trained, actors as they drink themselves stupid through the rut they are firmly and most delightfully wedged in.

It has been said (I can't source it but it has been said... to me at least) that this is the most quotable film of all time and I can certainly see why. I'm frequently guilty of it myself and I am not a quoter of films. But, to every Withnail fan there is something inherently delightful about walking past, or daringly into, an old lady tea shop and telling your companion that you "want the finest wines available to humanity" It's not our fault. It's an illness I tell you. Only the other day I was watching a programme about drink drivers and when the officer asked if dodgy geezer number one was a bit tipsy I couldn't help but blurt out "I assure you I'm not officer, I've only had a few ales".

I've already said too much. This is a film one should never be forced into watching, it is a film you need to discover. It is a film you should feel you own so if you haven't seen it yet then please, for the love of all things good and glittery, stop reading now.

Bruce Robinson put a large portion of his life into this film. The character of I is based on Robinson and the Withnail character is based on Vivian MacKerrell, a drama school friend with whom he shared a house in Camden in the late sixties. Although Robinson has said that while nothing Withnail says in the film is a direct quote from Vivian, everything Withnail says could have very easily been said by Vivian. Robinson kept diaries of this period in his life and excerpts from this shows exactly what he means:

V. came back and said we should join the Conservative Party. "What for?" I said.

"Because they give you sherry."


Vivan MacKerrell died due to throat cancer. Robinson has attributed this to the time MacKerrell drank lighter fluid (sending him blind for days) which is a scene repeated in the film.

Richard. E. Grant who plays Withnail is unbelievably allergic to alcohol. He has once in his entire life been drunk and that was in preparation for the making of Withnail and I. He didn't like it much.

I don't drink. During the rehearsals for Withnail, the director insisted that I get paralytically drunk so I'd know what it was like. It was dreadful. I was so ill I vomited and passed out.

As the film progresses and the predicaments get more farcical, hilarious and tragic it is impossible for your heart not to go out to this grim anti-hero.



I would be neglecting my duty here to not mention the drinking game. Christmas 2004 I spent playing the Withnail and I drinking game. I matched them drink for drink, smoke for smoke and pork pie for pork pie. I can't abide whisky so swapped it for Gin, I was doing well up until the Pernod (which whilst not officially part of the game was there and I was already half baked) when things started to mix in my stomach in most unpleasant ways.

The rules: Simply match Withnail drink for drink. You'll need red wine (lots of), Sherry, Whisky, Cider, Vodka, Ale....... You will be sick though.

Intersting factoids: The film features the Beatles song While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It is pretty rare to get a Beatles song approved for anything, especially a soundtrack, but in the case of Withnail and I, George Harrison happens to be one of the producers....

The recording of Whiter Shade of Pale was recorded at King Curtis's last performance, according to the Withnail links page, he was shot in the car park straight after the gig. This song opens the film beautifully. Sigh.

You would be extremely fortunate to find the Withnail and I soundtrack, due to a licensing problem with the Jimi Hendrix tracks it was discontinued. It is Jimi Hendrix I want to focus on here and his cover of Bob Dylans All Along the Watchtower


"No reason to get excited"
The thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke"

This song is covered and covered and covered again. I've heard a dodgy U2 cover, a suspect Pearl Jam cover and the Dave Mathews Band. It was all very shocking.

The Bob Dylan original is gentle and folksy. The lyrics depict a conversation between two characters who predict a foreboding change of circumstance. Yet again, the song echoing the sentiments of the film to which it is attached. It is not, however, the Dylan original that we hear in Withnail and I but the Jimi Hendrix Experience cover which is, in my not so humble opinion at all actually, vastly superior.

At a party with Dave Mason from the band Traffic Hendrix commented that he would love to cover this track, being a long time fan of Dylan. That evening Dave Mason and Jimi Hendrix took this track on. The Hendrix cover is full in a way that Dylans original isn't. According to wiki "it features slide guitar, done with a cigarette lighter rather than a more traditional tube of glass or metal". Awesome. The guitar solos in the Hendrix version are designed to replace the harmonica solo from the original and Dylan has been known to play this version in his live sets now.

This version of All Along the Watchtower also features in Forrest Gump, A Bronx Tale, and tupac: resurrection. The Withnail and I soundtrack features a second Jimi Hendrix track - Voodoo Chile.

Bob Dylan - All Along the Watchtower
Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower

Buy: Screenplay / DVD / Bruce Robinson / Bob Dylan / Jimi Hendrix

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