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Robinson, Bruce (1946-)

Director, Writer, Actor

Main image of Robinson, Bruce (1946-)

Bruce Robinson was born on 2 May 1946 in Broadstairs, Kent. He acted while at school, and trained formally at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In his third year, he was cast as Benvolio in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (UK/Italy, 1968). For the next few years he continued his acting career, appearing most notably in Barney Platts-Mills' Private Road (1971) and François Truffaut's L'Histoire d'Adèle H (France, 1975).

By this time, however, Robinson had developed stronger ambitions as a writer, and after appearing in Carlo Lizzani's The Kleinhoff Hotel (Italy/West Germany, 1977) largely abandoned acting. His debut as a screenwriter was for Roland Joffé's The Killing Fields (1985). This harrowing tale of life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge earned Robinson both the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay and an Oscar nomination. He then wrote and directed Withnail and I (1986), a picaresque comedy set at the tail-end of the 60s, following the misadventures of two out-of-work actors (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann), who forsake their squalid Camden Town flat for a weekend in the country at a farmhouse owned by Withnail's Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). Well received on its release, the film subsequently acquired a strong cult following, particularly among those who shared its irreverently un-nostalgic view of the 1960s.

Robinson's next venture was as writer-director of the vitriolic satirical comedy How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), again starring Richard E. Grant. Its wholesale attack on 1980s consumer culture frequently toppled over from satire into rant and the film did less well than the good-humoured Withnail and I. Robinson collaborated with Roland Joffé on the script for Fat Man and Little Boy (US, 1989), Joffé's film about the creation of the atom bomb, before writing and directing Jennifer 8 (US, 1992). With Lance Henriksen and Andy Garcia as cops on the trail of a serial killer, Uma Thurman as the blind woman they expect to be the next victim, and striking cinematography from veteran cameraman Conrad L. Hall, this might be seen as Robinson's most mainstream film. Nonetheless, it was considered a disappointment by its distributor, Paramount, and released straight-to-video in the UK. Robinson has subsequently written screenplays for Joseph Ruben's Return to Paradise (US, 1998) and Neil Jordan's In Dreams (US, 1999), but as a director he has yet to recapture the prestige of his debut film.


'Bruce Robinson: Withnail director and dipso's delight', Empire, Sept. 1995, p. 48.

'Bruce Robinson: Writer/Director', Empire, Sept. 1993, pp. 57-58.

Martin Hunt, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Thumbnail image of Withnail and I (1986)Withnail and I (1986)

Low-rent but side-splittingly funny period comedy that grew its own cult

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