Classic Film Scene: Withnail & I

Withnail and I

Great films appear every year and with them are potentially classic scenes that may become more famous than the film itself. The shower scene in Psycho, the chariot race in Ben Hur, the chest bursting moment in Alien, and the opera music sounding across the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption are just some of the examples of the classic celluloid moments that we may be familiar with even if we’ve never seen the film. I’ll be sharing my favourite film scenes, some you will know others may be unfamiliar, but hopefully they’ll be moments you enjoy as much as I do.

Withnail & I (1987) – Separate Ways

Withnail and IBruce Robinson’s 1987 British comedy is one of the finest films I’ve ever seen and reached a well deserved no.5 in my Top 10 Films feature some months back. Plot-wise there isn’t much to tell you but the film’s script is endlessly quotable and a constant delight, with a group of excellent actors leading us from the enclosing streets of Camden in the late 1960s and into the open air of Penrith. Withnail’s insistence that ‘we’ve gone on holiday by mistake’ is a fine testament to what awaits in this thoroughly enjoyable cult film. Oh, and did I mention some great background music as well, particularly Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower.

Set in 1969 in Camden, the film follows the progress of two unemployed actors, Withnail (a superb Richard E. Grant) and I (a brilliant Paul McGann), who is known as Marwood in the original script but never referred to as this in the film. Marwood narrates segments of the film as the two friends decide to trade their alcohol and drug-fuelled days in their filthy flat for a holiday in the country courtesy of Withnail’s uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), who has a cottage in Penrith, Cumbria. The rural setting proves something of a trial for our two friends who have some amusing exchanges with the locals, particularly a poacher named Jake (Michael Elphick), a randy bull and a new form of fishing, swapping a rod for a shotgun! The holiday soon becomes a pleasant getaway for Withnail when Uncle Monty arrives and takes over cooking duties but for Marwood it becomes an ordeal as he struggles to fight off the attentions of Withnail’s gay uncle. A friendship united in drugs, alcohol and acting is gradually pushed to breaking point and when Withnail and Marwood return to London things have changed irrevocably between them.

After reaching their flat Withnail and Marwood share a Camberwell Carrot (a very fancy looking form of cannabis) with drug dealer Danny (an amusing Ralph Brown) and his associate with a great name, Presuming Ed (Eddie Tagoe). Marwood learns his audition for a part in a theatre production has been unsuccessful in the role he applied for but instead he has been offered the lead role instead! Having found success Marwood has nothing to keep him in London anymore and so we begin my favourite scene of the film. Withnail walks Marwood towards the train station through Regent’s Park that they visited in the early stages of the film when beginning a painful four hour wait for the pubs to open. It’s raining and Withnail clasps an umbrella in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. Marwood asks him to return home as the weather is miserable but Withnail insists he wants to take his friend to the station. Marwood insists he doesn’t want him to, says a final farewell and that he will miss Withnail. Withnail’s response mirrors Marwood’s slightly but there is more desperation in his tone but he hides his obvious pain with a jovial “chin chin” before guzzling more wine. Marwood leaves and Withnail is left alone and forlorn in the park. He wanders over to an enclosure in the adjacent London Zoo where a pack of wolves are being held and proceeds to recite a passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Withnail then takes a bow, alone in the rain, to an invisible audience before making his way home. A panoramic shot of Withnail walking through the park closes out the film and every time I watch it, coupled with the excellent concluding music, I find myself certain that Marwood goes onto a promising career but of Withnail I can never say for sure.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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