Bruce Robinson
Robinson in 2016
Born (1946-05-02) 2 May 1946 (age 78)
London, England
Alma materRoyal Central School of Speech and Drama
  • Actor
  • screenwriter
  • director
Years active1967–present
Sophie Windham
(m. 1984)
Partner(s)Lesley-Anne Down
AwardsBAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
1984 The Killing Fields

Bruce Robinson (born 2 May 1946) is an English actor, director, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote and directed Withnail and I (1987), a film with comic and tragic elements set in London in the late 1960s, which drew on his experiences as a struggling actor, living in poverty in Camden Town.[1]

As an actor, he has worked with Franco Zeffirelli, Ken Russell and François Truffaut.

Early life

Bruce Robinson was born in London. He grew up in Broadstairs, Kent, where he attended the Charles Dickens Secondary Modern School. His parents were Mabel Robinson and American lawyer Carl Casriel, who had a short-term relationship during World War II. His father was a Lithuanian Jew.[2] As a child, Robinson was constantly brutally abused by his stepfather Rob (an ex RAF navigator and a wholesale newsagent), who knew the boy was not his son.[2] He had an elder sister Elly, whom he asked to teach him some French.[3]

Film career

Bruce Robinson and Lesley-Anne Down in the late 1970s
Robinson at the premiere of The Rum Diary

In his youth, Robinson aspired to be an actor and was admitted to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. His first film role was as Benvolio in Franco Zeffirelli's film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1968). He then appeared in Ken Russell's The Music Lovers (1970), Barney Platts-Mills's Private Road (1971) and François Truffaut's The Story of Adèle H. (1975). After spending several years out of work and living on social security payments, he became disenchanted and began writing screenplays. He was soon commissioned by David Puttnam to write the screenplay for Roland Joffé's The Killing Fields (1984). Robinson was nominated for an Academy Award and won a BAFTA for his work. In 1989, Robinson wrote again for Joffé on Fat Man and Little Boy. He returned to acting briefly in 1998, taking a role in the film Still Crazy.

He is perhaps best known as the creative force behind the loosely autobiographical film Withnail and I (1987) which he based on his time as a struggling out-of-work actor.[4] The character 'Withnail' is reportedly based on his friend, Vivian MacKerrell, the character 'I' (Marwood), on himself. Though unsuccessful at the box office, because of its success on video it has since been described as "one of Britain's biggest cult films".[5] The film also launched the acting career of Richard E. Grant.

Robinson's next two outings as a director (How to Get Ahead in Advertising, teaming him again with Richard E. Grant, and Jennifer 8, a Hollywood thriller) were not as well received.[6] Robinson became disillusioned with the restrictive film-making practices of Hollywood and stopped directing to concentrate solely on writing. He wrote the screenplays for the films Return to Paradise (1998) and In Dreams (1999), but both were altered drastically by their producers, leaving Robinson once again disappointed.[7]

Robinson eventually returned to directing with an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's novel The Rum Diary, with the main role performed by Johnny Depp.[8] With Aaron Eckhart and Richard Jenkins also on board, filming started on 25 March 2009 in Puerto Rico.[9] It was released in 2011. In 2012, Robinson's comic novella Paranoia in the Launderette was substantially filled out and adapted for the screen as A Fantastic Fear of Everything starring Simon Pegg. Robinson has completed a screenplay for his novel The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman and a book on Jack the Ripper, titled They All Love Jack.


Robinson is also a successful author. His first published work was the semi-autobiographical novel The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman in 1998, based on his own childhood growing up in Broadstairs, Kent. In 2000, Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson, edited by Alistair Owen, was published, made up of a selection of interviews given by Robinson. Meanwhile, since becoming a father, Robinson has also written two children's books, The Obvious Elephant (2000) and Harold and the Duck (2005), both illustrated by his wife. The former is also available as an audiobook edition (2003), read by Lorelei King and Michael Maloney. He spent about 15 years collecting and researching the materials on the mystery of Jack the Ripper, which later became his book They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (2015). Robinson identified songwriter Michael Maybrick as his prime suspect for the killings.[10]

Personal life

Robinson married artist Sophie Windham in 1984, and they live in England. They have a daughter, Lily, and a son, Willoughby.[11]

Robinson claimed to have been the target of unwanted sexual advances by Franco Zeffirelli during the filming of Romeo and Juliet, in which Robinson played Benvolio. Robinson says that the lecherous character of Uncle Monty in the film Withnail and I was influenced by Zeffirelli.[12]



Year Title Director Writer Notes
1984 The Killing Fields No Yes
1987 Withnail and I Yes Yes
1989 How to Get Ahead in Advertising Yes Yes
Fat Man and Little Boy No Yes
1992 Jennifer 8 Yes Yes
1998 Return to Paradise No Yes
1999 In Dreams No Yes
2011 The Rum Diary Yes Yes
2012 A Fantastic Fear of Everything No Novella Based on Paranoia in the Launderette (1998)






  1. ^ Interview by Robert Chalmers (20 February 2011). "The Independent on Sunday, The New Review, p.15, 20 February 2011". Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Mick (2 October 2015). "Jack the Ripper: Has Bruce Robinson solved the world's most famous crime?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  3. ^ "How one man revealed Jack the Ripper's identity: the full story". GQ. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Withnail and I (1986)". Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  5. ^ Russell, Jamie. "How "Withnail & I" Became a Cult". BBC. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  6. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Robinson, Bruce (1946–) Biography". 2 May 1946. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Bruce Robinson | Britmovie | Home of British Films". Britmovie. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Withnail's Bruce Robinson To Direct The Rum Diary | Movie News | Empire". 5 December 2006. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  9. ^ "The Rum Diary Now Filming". IGN. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  10. ^ Smith, P.D. (3 October 2015). "They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson review – a huge establishment cover-up". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  11. ^ Chalmers, Robert. "Bruce Robinson: 'I started drinking again because of The Rum Diary'". The Independent. Retrieved 10 June 2024.
  12. ^ Murphy, Peter. "Interview with Bruce Robinson". Archived from the original on 7 July 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.