Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I is just about the closest thing to a perfect movie. Released in 1987, this gloriously glum black comedy tells the story of two out-of-work actors (one with a severe drinking problem) who decide to escape the grime of their London flat for the soggy climes of the British countryside.
But, really, that isn’t what it’s about at all. Beneath Robinson’s sardonic dialogue, Withnail and I is an exploration of human frailty, an eschatological fever-dream that plays out to the sound of Jimi Hendrix and King Curtis. Although, I highly doubt Robinson would agree with that assessment. The director tends to think about his own films in less academic terms. In his own words, all of his works – Withnail and I included – are about two central themes: “drink and shit”. That frankness made Withnail and I a cult hit on release. With so many British people out of work and struggling to make ends meet, the film gave a rough-shod glamour to life on the dole.
Largely autobiographical, Withnail and I is a heightened rendering of Robinson’s days as a penniless actor. While many of the more anarchic scenes are often assumed to be the product of the director’s wine-addled brain, a good deal of the action was inspired by his real-life acting buddy Vivian MacKerrell, who Robinson shared a flat with in the 1960s and early ’70s. “He absolutely inspired me,” Robinson told the Independent.
Adding: “I have never had such intense conversations in my life as I had with Viv. He was a public schoolboy from an upper-middle-class background, while I was a secondary modern kid who didn’t even know what poetry was. He used to start the day with a cup of black coffee, honey and hashish: what he called the Baudelaire Principle”.
35 years after its release, Withnail and I is still as watchable (and quotable) as it was in 1987. In celebration of its enduring legacy, we’ve bought you a list of the filming locations Robinson used to bring cinema’s most unsuccessfully holiday to life.
Vist the filming locations of Withnail and I:
The Boys’ Flat
Location: 57 Chepstow Place, Notting Hill, London W2 4TS.
Withnail and I begins with a shot of Marwood (Paul McGann) smoking a cigarette to the bone. As King Curtis’ soaring version of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ unfurls, we see shafts of sunlight sneaking through the curtains, illuminating a living room jam-packed with Victorian heirlooms and antique furniture. This is the boys’ flat, a space made almost entirely of bottles, washing up and dead flowers.
The interior shots for this creature-infested pit were filmed at 57 Chepstow Place in London’s Notting Hill, a now-affluent district that, in the 1960s, featured some of the direst housing conditions in London. In the victorian era, the area had been notorious for its slums, which were gradually cleared in the 1960s and ’70s and replaced by modern tower blocks such as Ernő Goldfinger’s brutalist megalith, Trellick Tower, which can be seen looming in the background of numerous shots throughout Withnail and Marwood’s journey out of London.
Location: Regent’s Park, London NW1 4NR.
London’s Regents Park serves as something of a bookend in Withnail and I. It first appears when Withnail and Marwood decide to go for a walk and decide to go on holiday. While hunched on one of the park’s many black benches, Withnail declares: “I’m in a park and I’m practically dead,” in response to Marwood’s suggestion that they get out of the city for a few days.
Regents Park also serves as the backdrop for Withnail’s Hamlet soliloquy in the final scene. Drenched in rain, we see the solitary character – now let to his own devices – howling outside London Zoo, where unimpressed wolves walk to-and-fro behind a grim chainlink fence and un-climitised birds screech endlessly. From behind this fence, we say goodbye to Withnail as he exits hopelessly up a winding tarmac pathway.
Location: Sleddale Hall, Shap, Penrith CA10 3NE.
When Withnail and Marwood finally locate Crow Crag, they find a distinctly spartan looking hovel that looks as though it may collapse at any moment. Clearly, the Cumbrian cottage is sturdier than it appears in the film because Sleddale Hall is still standing today. Better still, it’s free to explore. Aside from a few chalk engravings by devoted fans, you’ll find it’s barely changed since Bruce Robinson and his crew arrived in the late ’60s.
While little is known about the history of Sleddale Hall, it’s believed that the lands around Sleddale have been worked since the medieval era and that the hall became the home of William Rawes, a local Yeoman sometime in the mid-18th century. More recently, the building has been renovated and may shortly be transformed into a holiday cottage, giving Withnailian aficionados the chance to go on “holiday by mistake” as well.
The Crow and Crown
Location: Stockers Farm, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, WD3 1NZ.
After managing to cook a chicken by sitting it upright in a cast-iron oven, Withnail and Marwood head down to the local watering hole: The Crow and Crown Bar, where Withnail butters up the moustachioed veteran behind the bar and upsets an eel-wielding poacher.
While most of the pair’s holiday was filmed on location in Cumbria, the interiors for the Crow and Crown were filmed on Stockers Farm in Hertfordshire, a Grade II listed building that has appeared in countless British film productions thanks to its rustic aesthetic and proximity to London. In addition to Withnail and I, the 17th-century building has been featured in Bridget Jones, 28 Weeks Later, Children of Men and Never Let Me Go.
Location: Bampton/Shap, Cumbria.
One of the most stunning shots from Withnail and I comes while Marwood and Withnail are exploring the rolling hills around their cottage. Despite being several miles away from Crow Crag, Withnail somehow manages to find himself on a hillside overlooking Haweswater Reservoir, a man-made waterway created in 1929 to provide water to the people of Manchester.
Before the valley was flooded, it was home to the village of Mardale Green and Measand, both of which were demolished to make way for the lake – farms, pubs and churches included. After the bodies in the churchyard had been reburied in nearby Shap, the waters were released and the remnants of the medieval village were submerged. Apparently, when the waters are low, it’s possible to see its stone bridge and walls poking through. Above all of this, Withnail holds his arms aloft and screams the immortal line “I’m gonna be a star!” into the roaring wind.
The Penrith tea rooms
Location: 14, Market Place, Stoney Stratford, Milton Keynes, MK46 4BA.
While Uncle Monty’s arrival poses significant challenges for Marwood, it does have its benefits: namely the chance to get tanked up at his expense. To achieve this goal, he and Withnail head to The King Henry Pub where they get royally pissed on the money Monty gave them to buy a sturdy pair of Wellington boots.
The pub scene was shot at The Crown in the quaint town of Stoney Stratford, just outside Milton Keynes. Here, on the opposite side of Market Square, you will find Cox & Robinson chemists, which now occupies the building that served as the location for the tea rooms where Withnail requests the “finest wines known to humanity” from its curmudgeonly proprietor.