After Bruce Robinson directed his third film, Jennifer 8, he promised himself that he would never direct again. While intended to establish his reputation in Hollywood, it ended as a box office disaster, garnishing negative reviews and unfavourable reception among both critics and the public all over. While the film was not as substandard as general public reaction led Robinson to believe – presenting itself as an enjoyably gripping thriller with a stellar cast and expectedly quality performances – his directing career was placed aside, giving way to various screenwriting endeavours, including Return to Paradise and In Dreams. Much of his disappointment with the film stems from the abusive amount of changes made, outside involvement and interference by the committee.
Prior to Jennifer 8, his catalogue of screenwriting and directing efforts had been more than impressive. Though his name as a writer in the movie industry had been elevated when he collaborated with director, Roland Joffe to write the screenplay for The Killing Fields in in 1984, a drama exploring the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Robinson really earned his name with his directorial debut, Withnail & I – a cult classic, set in the underbelly of London, following two down-and-out actors, and based on the filmmaker’s alcohol-driven life in the 1960’s. The success of this feature really propelled Robinson’s career and it has since been time-honoured as one of the best films ever to come out of Great Britain.
With this kind of knowledge, it becomes a bit easier to understand why Robinson left directing behind after his 1992 thriller flopped the way it did. Amazingly, it wasn’t until 2009 that he was lassoed back into the directing game by none other than Johnny Depp. When the actor became involved with plans for adapting of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, he begged Robinson to write the screenplay and direct the whole thing. The end result was a colourful, humorous and well pieced-together (and perhaps a little glamorized) take on Thompson’s second novel of the same name. In this most recent project, fragments of Robinson’s distinct directing style are brought back to life.
Interestingly, The Rum Diary brought more than directing back into Robinson’s life – professionalism aside – the filmmaker started drinking again. His early days had been rife with alcoholism, and sobering up for around eight years, he fell off the wagon again during the process of filming. He blames it specifically on The Rum Diary, and this becomes a justifiable enough scapegoat. With a little knowledge of Thompson’s work, it becomes apparent that shooting an adaptation of any of the journalist’s novels is virtually impossible in a sober state of mind.
Most recently, news that Robinson has completed a screenplay adapted from one of his novels, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, provides hope that the 64 year-old is still very much active and that a lot more remains to be seen. Word is out that he has also completed a new novel (yet to be published) circulating around Jack the Ripper. And as far as directing goes, his most recent effort leaves the door open for future projects, and though he is yet to match the genius that resonates throughout Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson continues to show promise and intelligence in his filmmaking, giving us no reason to doubt that his best work may be yet to come.