Bruce Robinson: Withnail & I
This is one of the greatest books ever written, and one I return to again and again when I need reassuring that Sturgeon’s Law was perhaps too conservative. Bruce Robinson’s screenplay for his first (and best) film is sui generis, one of the most hilarious and also one of the most heartfelt pieces of writing ever made. Missing from any watching of the film are Robinson’s descriptions of characters and scenes. This is how he prepares the reader for the squalor of Withnail and Marwood’s Camden Town hovel: “Dostoyevsky described hell as perhaps nothing more than a room with a chair in it. This room has several chairs.” This is his introduction to Uncle Monty: “MONTY is large with a reptilian quality. His nose dominates the face and is the colour of port. Somehow his head has managed to grow round his glasses like trees grow round wire. In his lapel is a radish the same colour as his nose.” And this is how he sets the final melancholy scene: “The park is as bleak and deserted as its ever been. The afternoon is dissolving into threadbare rain. They walk the paths like they’ve done a dozen times before. But they were together then. And now they’re already done. Strangers already.” There’s also several scenes cut from the final edit of the film that give added depth to what those of us who’ve watched it dozens of times know so well. I got my copy in the mid-90’s and it’s one of a small handful of books that I’ve hung onto all these years, partly out of the sheer quality of the writing but also as a reminder that some of the best art can be made from some of the most unlikely source materials.
Here’s my drawings of the principal characters from Withnail & I: