12 May 2022
What if you ask for ‘the finest
wines available to humanity’
in shops in Stony Stratford?
Tea Shop Proprietor: You’re drunk.
Marwood: Just bring out the cakes.
Withnail: Cake and fine wine.
Waitress: If you don’t leave, we’ll call the police.
Withnail: Balls! We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!
Two loud, drunk, filthy, arrogant and unemployed actors stumble into the Penrith Tea Rooms at closing time in 1969. Except, the movie Withnail and I was made in 1987, the tea rooms are, in reality, a charm-laden pharmacists’ shop, and the setting is not Penrith in the Lake District but Stony Stratford, on the edges of Milton Keynes.
Withnail and I is a black comedy film written and directed by Bruce Robinson. It has become a cult movie, and it appears on lists of the greatest British films of all time and of the best British films ever.
Richard E Grant, playing the part of Withnail, commands: ‘We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here and we want them now.’ It has become one of the best-known film one-liners.
The film is based loosely based on Bruce Robinson’s life in London in the late 1960s. Two unemployed actors, Withnail and the unnamed ‘I’ – portrayed by Richard E Grant and Paul McGann – share a flat in Camden Town in 1969. In need of a holiday, they borrow the key to a country cottage in Cumbria belonging to Withnail’s eccentric uncle Monty and drive there. The weekend holiday proves less recuperative than they expected.
The character ‘I’ is named ‘Marwood’ in the published screenplay but goes unnamed in the film credits.
The enduring appeal of this cult movie means Stony Stratford is regularly visited by fans in search of the King Henry and the Penrith Tea Rooms.
Neither is in Cumbria, but instead they can be found in the Market Square in Stony Stratford, at the Crown Inn at No 9 and at Cox and Robinson pharmacy at No 1.
There is no tea room in Stony Stratford either, although the town has its share of cafés. Instead, Cox and Robinson at No 1 Market Square is a pharmacists’ shop, and the oldest shop in Stony Stratford.
They do not serve cake and fine wines there – not even the finest wines available to humanity – nor do they have the jukebox Withnail and Marwood threatened to install. Instead, they are more likely to stock something to help handle the bruising hangover of two downbeat actors.
The best – and the only place – on Market Square to find both cake and wine is the Cronw at No 9 Market Square, the pub transformed in the film into the King Henry, and where the pair spend Monty’s Wellington boots money on getting drunk.
Although the Crown has since had quite a makeover inside, it remains a relaxing traditional local pub, with a good restaurant and fine food.
In the altercation in the tearooms in Withnail and I, Withnail threatens the proprietor: ‘We’ll buy this place and have it knocked down!’
Thankfully they were neverlikely to deliver on their threat.
Cox and Robinson and the Crown are still standing. The square seen in Withnail and I has changed a little since the film was produced 35 years ago, but is still recognisable. There are more car parking spaces and the trees have grown taller, apart from the great elm tree outside the pub which has since died of Dutch Elm Disease and has been replaced.