Masterpieces #32: Withnail & I

Withnail and I
About Withnail & I (1987)
Withnail and IAcerbic and irresistibly self-destructive Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and neurotic Marwood (Paul McGann) are down-at-the-heels actors in 1960s London, living in self-inflicted squalor and drowning their artistic frustrations with booze and any drugs they can get their hands on. Fleeing the doldrums — and unpaid bills — of the city, the pair finds themselves stuck in the less than idyllic country cottage of Withnails lascivious uncle Monty. The boundaries of friendship are outrageously tested by hunger, the hostile locals and Montys amorous advances in Director Bruce Robinsons semi-autobiographical cult favorite.

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Withnail & I (1987)

Bruce Robinson’s 80s classic has gathered a massive cult following since its release more than 25 years ago, even spawning its own drinking game, though not one that is recommended if you’re planning on surviving the night! I’ve heard variants with one camp suggesting you drink when the two main characters do and another saying you drink exactly what they drink during the film. That’s a lot to cram in during the less than two hours you’re in the company of Withnail & I.

Withnail & I is unusual in the respect there’s very little that actually happens. Two struggling actors in the 60s, fond of drugs but mostly alcohol, get away from London, have a weekend in the country then come back.  That’s it. Though it doesn’t sound exciting the genius of the film is more in what is said by the characters and, thankfully, the script is as superb as the acting. “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake,” “Lick 10% of the arses for me then” and “We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them now” are just a taste of the highly quotable script.

Out in the country Withnail and I (his name is open to debate amongst fans) find their friendship tested by their struggle to survive some hilarious encounters with the rural locals. Humour is found in abundance in the film with far too many memorable scenes and quotes to be listed here. Drama isn’t overlooked either, particularly when Withnail and ‘I’ return to London with their friendship now at breaking point. Though the two friends haven’t been away long, London is different somehow, the sixties are coming to an end, the world is changing and they are left to decide whether to change with it or be left behind.

With the sharp script, three excellent performances from Grant, McCann and Griffiths, not to mention some pretty damn good music in the background I would challenge anyone not to find something to enjoy here. No special effects or complex storylines, just a simple narrative, but at the same time a masterpiece.

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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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