Bringing 'Withnail & I' to the West End is a 'crap idea' says original star Griffiths

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The Independent Culture

As Uncle Monty in Withnail & I, he declared admiration for a "firm young carrot," before attempting to seduce Paul McGann with the words: "I mean to have you, boy, even if it must be burglary." Two decades later, the actor Richard Griffiths has made an equally flamboyant attack on controversial plans to bring a stage version of the often-quoted film to London's West End.

"It's a crap idea," said Griffiths, who starred in Withnail alongside McGann and Richard E Grant. "What possible function would it serve, except to make someone some money?"

The comments, in a BBC interview, will fuel a long-running dispute between Bruce Robinson, who wrote and directed the cult film, and Handmade, a production company which has asked Jude Law to star in a theatrical version.

Robinson recently described Handmade's plans to adapt the comic story - which follows two "resting" actors in 1969 London who make an alcohol-fuelled trip to the countryside - as "scandalous".

He insisted that the firm, which was set up by George Harrison in the 1970s, was not entitled to go ahead with the project without his permission. Handmade financed the 1987 film, and maintains that it already owns the necessary rights to turn it into a play.

Griffiths, who is in London to promote the film version of Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, agrees. "Bruce thinks there's something unworthy about the desire to make a play of it," he said. "That's fine by me. Bruce is the creator, and if he says no it's no. And that's the end of it."

Robinson yesterday welcomed the comments, saying they "summed up admirably" the case against bringing Withnail to the West End. His lawyers are still in negotiations with Handmade.

"As far as I am concerned, Richard is right on the money," he said. "I have fond memories, which I will always cherish of the film, and have no desire to see it turned into a stage play.

"Apart from anything else, it could completely bomb from an artistic point of view. Anything ancillary to the original film will be nothing more than a money-making exercise in my view."

Original plans for a West End production were revealed in May, after The Independent's diary column, Pandora, discovered them buried in financial papers related to a reverse take-over bid. The "offer document" said that Laurence Myers, the producer behind Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, would be in charge of the project. "Production is anticipated for 2007," read the document.

At the time, Handmade's director, Patrick Meehan, said that Jude Law had been approached to take the lead role. Although he admitted that "lawyers and agents" had been called in to iron out disagreements with Robinson, he maintained that his firm did own rights for the play.

"Handmade own the copyright and the rights to Withnail & I... However, it is normal to seek creative agreement from one of the writers, and that process is under way. Everything is on track."

Meehan was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, the views of Griffiths contrast starkly with those of his former co-star Grant, who was asked about a potential stage play at a film premiere this summer.

"Good luck to them [Handmade]," he said. "I think the idea would transfer to the stage very well, and of course Bruce's original was such a brilliantly written script that I'm sure the part would be a success for anybody who tries it."

Where are they now?

Bruce Robinson Director

Robinson wrote Withnail in the 1980s, and was offered £70,000 to direct it. The payment was later cut to £40,000 to keep within budget. He lives in Herefordshire, and is making The Rum Diaries, a film started by the late Hunter S Thompson in 1959.

Richard E Grant Withnail

Two years after Withnail, Grant resumed his collaboration with Robinson, playing a stressed-out executive in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. He became an international star and his debut as a director, the memoir Wah-Wah, premiered in June.

Paul McGann Peter Marwood

McGann starred in several films after Withnail, but is best known as a TV actor. He played Doctor Who in the 1990s, and was cast as Sharpe in the ITV series, but replaced by Sean Bean after breaking a leg. He will appear in the British film, Poppies, this year.

Richard Griffiths Monty

The role of Uncle Monty launched a successful career as a character actor, playing rotund (and often homosexual) upper-class men. He plays Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films, and appears in the stage and film versions of The History Boys.