Starring Richard E Grant and Paul McGann in a funny but poignant tale of two struggling actors at the end of the Sixties, at the box office it barely made its money back.
However, since then it has become an absolute cult classic, especially among impecunious students struggling to pay for the necessities of life such as booze and Camberwell Carrot spliffs.
It is also highly quotable with a script delivering line after line of tremendous dialogue.
An original first draft for the screenplay certainly caught bidders’ attention when it came up at Hertfordshire saleroom Excalibur (27% buyer’s premium inc VAT) on September 9.
Guided at £300-500, it sold for £2500.
The timing of the auction was good: a new book, Withnail & I: from Cult to Classic by Toby Benjamin was published four days earlier.
The screenplay was signed to the inside front page by Bruce Robinson, who directed this very different look at life compared with his previous screenplay which had earned an Oscar nomination: The Killing Fields.
'Morbid little autobiography'
The Withnail and I screenplay, which looks like it outlines at least one scene that did not appear in the final version, was accompanied by a personal letter from Robinson to Paul Heller introducing the script together with a folder containing production and location guides for the film.
Heller became the producer of Withnail and I and this lot was consigned from his private collection (with a letter of authenticity signed by his widow).
Writing from Wimbledon Park, south London, to Heller in Los Angeles, Robinson said of his “morbid little autobiography” that “in case it amuses not, I’d like it known that it’s a comedy, and essentially very English. Some of it is a little difficult to understand, and there’s a lot of English slang in here (i.e. ‘give us a tanner and I’ll give him a bell’ translates as ‘Give me sixpence and I’ll telephone him’ etc…”
Robinson notes: “…if it hasn’t grabbed by page ten I reccomend [sic] the trash can”.
The level of Withnail and I fandom or fanaticism can also be gauged by a lot that made a mid-estimate £5500 at Dreweatts in January 2021: a wood and plastic sign prop for Crow Crag Farm where the hapless duo holiday “by mistake” in Cumbria.
Despite the price, it does not even appear in the final edit of the film - but the signatures of members of the cast on the prop probably helped demand.