A new photographic exhibition offers a glimpse behind-the-scenes of the film that gave us such quotable classics as “I must have some booze, I demand to have some booze!” and “As a youth I used to weep in butchers shops”.
Bruce Robinson’s 1987 feature Withnail and I might have only achieved around £500,000 at the UK box office when it first came out, but it has since achieved cult status. It also catapulted the then unknown Richard E. Grant to fame as Withnail, an unemployed-yet-aristocratic actor living in squalor with his friend Marwood (“I” is never named in the film, only in the screenplay), aka Paul McGann.
The pair, both struggling actors, while away the many days between auditions by getting increasingly drunk and rolling spliffs the size of carrots in their filthy Camden town flat. It is so cold that, at one point, Withnail attempts to stave off frostbite by covering himself in Deep Heat.
The film also stars the inimitable Richard Griffiths, who died last March aged 65, as Uncle Monty. Events take an amusing turn when Withnail persuades Monty to lend him a small cottage (Crow Crag) in the Lake District for a holiday, but the thespian duo end up near-starving, faced with depressing English weather, angering the locals (after rudely shouting their demands for cake in the local tea shop) and – in Marwood’s case- having to fend off the unwanted sexual advances of Monty himself.
Renowned photographer Murray Close was present on the film set - mostly Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire and London - to shoot the actors between takes. His images give an impression of the “great sense of camaraderie” on set. “Crow Crag [which is actually Sleddale Hall, Shap] was as tiny and uncomfortable as it appears with nowhere to hide,” Close recalls. “You almost felt part of the scene crammed around the dining table.”
An exhibition of his behind-the-scenes photographs will open close to where much of the film’s action was set, at Camden’s Proud Galleries, later this month.
Withnail & Me: The Finale Photographs by Murray Close , 20 June to 1 September 2013, Proud Camden, www.proud.co.uk
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