Withnail and I is one of those films where everything comes together to make a pivotal point in the world’s film industry, which is so good that, had it not been invented, the world would’ve shifted off its axis. From numerous quotes including, “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake” and “I demand to have some booze!”, to the ill-advised drinking game, where students (generally – and yes, I was one, but I didn’t partake in this) will watch the film and take a drink of whatever Richard E Grant is drinking as he drinks it, which will either result in a prolonged death or a bad tummy.
Arrow have put together a 4-disc packed which contains both Withnail and I and How To Get Ahead in Advertising, director Bruce Robinson‘s follow-up feature, and both on Blu-ray and DVD, along with a huge stack of extras. I’ll be reviewing the Blu-ray versions of both.
Marwood (Paul McGann), aka the “I” in the title – and also the narrator from time to time, is a ‘resting’ actor (i.e. unemployed and unemployable), and is sick of the humdrum life around him with the tabloids full of sleazy stories, and his local cafe being full of grotesque types who shove a whole runny egg sandwich in their mouths, whilst slurping their weak tea. Marwood is on the verge of a breakdown while suffering from a drug overdose (“My heart’s beating like a fucked clock!”), while flatmate Withnail (Grant) observes they’re out of wine and his tongue is “wearing a yellow sock”.
Set in 1969, their kitchen looks like it could use a visit from Kim & Aggie, as they don’t seem to have washed up since the decade began. The only answer is… to go outside. Neither look like they’ve had any fresh air since time began. There’s one answer which is to escape to the countryside and visit Uncle Monty (the late, great Richard Griffiths, joining Grant and McGann in all being at the top of their game, here), a plan which seems like a good idea at first, but not when Monty starts coming on to Marwood…
How to Get Ahead in Advertising is a film I didn’t really get into back in the day.
Richard E Grant plays Denis Dimbleby Bagley, a successful advertising agent who knows what the woman of today wants, and what she demands of her weekly trip to the supermarket, all of which he delivers in a stirling address to all of his underlings over the opening credits to the film. Everyone he works with thinks he’s an arrogant toss-pot. He is. He knows he is. But he doesn’t care.
He’s getting anxious aplenty about trying to come up with an exciting campaign for a very dull pimple cream. Busting people’s boils is the one thing on which he cannot get a handle, but he’ll be forced to, before long, when one surfaces on his neck… then forms into a second head, which causes him all manner of problems, as well as further headaches for his wife, Julia (Rachel Ward), not least when she wakes up to find him naked and trashing the kitchen by seemingly throwing food about, which he describes as “completing a process of natural selection, going through everything in the house and isolating items of genuine worth” – basically, getting rid of all those items which have been sold to them through the power of advertising.
Rather like Withnail and I, Grant excels in delivering another manic performance for others to react to, and there’s also references back to that film with talk of pork pies and dismemberment of chickens.
There’s also a fantastic performance from Richard Wilson as his boss, John Bristol, and don’t forget the one-and-only John Shrapnel, who plays the psychiatrist. With the addition of writer/director as the uncredited voice of the boil, while it does go off the rails a bit in the third act, I’ve surprised myself at how superb How to Get Ahead in Advertising is with Richard E Grant effectively playing not one role but two. And if you don’t know why, then you have to watch this to find out.
Go to page 2 for the presentation and the extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.