By Nicholas Barber 26th May 2020 (

After barely making a ripple when it was first released, Withnail and I has come to be seen as one of the best British films ever made. Nicholas Barber explores its appeal.

Withnail and I wasn’t a box-office sensation when it came out in 1987. “I remember actor friends really liking it,” one of the film’s stars, Paul McGann, tells BBC Culture. “Reviewers not so much. It wasn’t given a big release. It played in a handful of London venues and then it was gone.”

In the years that followed, though, Withnail and I came to define the term ‘cult movie’. A hilarious, melancholy tragicomedy, it is still obscure enough for its fervent fans to feel as if they are members of an exclusive club. But it keeps cropping up on critics’ lists of the best British films ever made, and it was placed at number 24 in BBC Culture’s poll of cinema’s funniest ever comedies. The script, in particular, is often hailed as a work of comic genius. McGann’s co-star, Richard E Grant, has been cheering up Twitter since mid-March by posting daily ‘Withnail and Isolation’ videos of quotes from the film. And McGann himself is reminded of such quotes on a regular basis. “It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve probably had every single line of it said back to me,” he says. “Including the French and Latin ones.”

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Danny the drug dealer visits Withnail & Marwood.

Withnail & I Director Bruce Robinson and star Richard E. Grant (Withnail) discuss the movie.