Client: Withnail and I
PR Team: Feature Film Company
Campaign: Tenth anniversary relaunch of cult film Withnail and I
Timing: February-March 1996
PR Budget: pounds 8,000
Since its appearance ten years ago, the film Withnail and I, has
achieved cult status with hippies, 60s lovers and successive generations
of students. It also established the acting careers of Richard E Grant
and Paul McGann and helped the writer and director Bruce Robinson in an
attempt to win the Hollywood market.
The film distribution market is intensely competitive with only a true
lull during the summer and a blip in the new year. Surprisingly, the
post-Christmas period saw a great deal of releases which would appeal to
the potential Withnail audience including Seven, Heat, Trainspotting and
Feature Films believed they could, however, capitalise on the cult of
‘new laddism’ and sell the film to a youth audience as well as
Withnail’s stalwart admirers.
Despite an originally disappointing theatrical release, the success of a
sell-through video persuaded the distribution company Feature Film that
there was a market for Withnail and I’s theatrical re-release.
On the back of this evidence and a fast approaching tenth anniversary
the company decided to use a selection of marketing and PR techniques to
enable Withnail to have a fighting chance against the big Hollywood
distributors and the expected big hype which would herald the release of
The company decided to do the PR in-house because the directors felt
they could be more enthusiastic about the project than a team from an
outside agency. ‘Although it’s not that we are disparaging the work of
consultancies, far from it,’ said Will Clarke, head of theatrical
distribution at Feature Film.
A launch party was held at Browns Nightclub in London on 30 January, the
week of the release, with attendant British stars of stage and screen
including Richard E Grant, Paul McGann, comedian Sean Hughes and Cathy
Lloyd. The press were invited to cover the event.
Grant, McGann and director Bruce Robinson then went on a tour of the
country to increase interest in the film’s release as Withnail went
onscreen in up to 20 major cities around the country.
At the same time wine merchants Oddbins started a promotion linked to
Withnail using the line ‘The finest wines available to humanity’.
Publishers Bloomsbury brought out an edition of the film’s script and
supported this with a regional press advertising campaign, while
merchandise was sold in HMV and Virgin stores.
Withnail and I entered the national film charts at number 13 and had, in
its first week, a screen average of pounds 9,000 per cinema, against a
screen average of pounds 4,500 for Hollywood film releases.
The media coverage was phenomenally favourable for a second-time around,
small-budget movie. Items about Withnail appeared on This Morning, Big
Breakfast, BBC Breakfast News, Channel 4’s Moviewatch. The Late Show,
Good Morning, BBC Radios 1,2,3,4 and 5, Capital and Piccadilly radio.
Press coverage was generally favourable although the Sunday Times’s
Cosmo Landesman gave it the thumbs down.
‘The saddest thing is that neither Grant nor McGann has gone on to do
anything so electric,’ said Radio 4 film reviewer Antonia Quirke.