Withnail and I

Dir: Bruce Robinson
Star: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown

While not quite living up to its reputation as one of the great British comedies of all time, there are moments of genius here. The set-up is certainly comedy gold: two unemployed, alcoholic actors (Grant and McGann) go on holiday in the Lake District, only to find the weather appalling, their residence scarcely better than the Camden hovel they left behind, and some locals less than friendly. Then Withnail's extremely queer - in both senses - uncle (Griffiths) follows them, intent on extracting payment in kind for the accommodation. The best parts showcase how utterly out of their depth the city-folk are, whether it's Withnail trying to fish with a shotgun, or a drunken assault on a closed tea-room, demanding cake, while claiming to be multi-millionaires and threatening to "install a fucking juke-box".

Yet, it's also a strangely melancholy film with the two leads such abysmal failures at everything: as Withnail bleats, "We've gone on holiday by mistake." Though nominally set in 1969, there's little beyond the soundtrack (Hendrix, The Beatles) to pin-point the movie: it could be any time in the past 40 years. That's perhaps why it has such resonance, though parts don't go anywhere or do much; I wasn't fond of a lengthy section after their visit to Penrith, through when they come back to London, up until almost the end. That, I admit, is poignant, Withnail performing Hamlet to a pack of wolves after "I" [his name is actually Marwood] departs for fame...or, at least, work. Realising the character genuinely has talent, shifts the film from comedy into tragedy with remarkable ease.

October 2006

I demand to have some booze!
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