A Delightful Weekend in the Country
"Withnail & I" is the sort of movie that if you first watched drunk or stoned will not only be hilarious but a movie of fond memories that frequently come flashing back and lead you to not only want to watch it again but wax lyrical about how great it is. On the other hand if you watch "Withnail & I" for the first time whilst sober it is entertaining but not the cult classic which others proclaim it to be. I am in that second group, but whilst "Withnail & I" didn't set my world alight like it did for others I can appreciate that it is a brilliant movie, well written, brilliantly acted and when you know it is based upon writer and director Bruce Robinson's own experiences is also surprisingly touching.
London 1969 and out of work actors Withnail (Richard E. Grant - The Iron Lady) and Marwood (Paul McGann - Lesbian Vampire Killers) are barely getting by, living in conditions worse than a slum, desperate for work and in Withnail's case desperate for a drink as he stumbles from hangover to hangover. In need of something they take a trip to the country to stay in Withnail's Uncle Morty's (Richard Griffiths) country cottage but they soon realise that they are not well prepared for living the country life. And to complicate matters Uncle Morty arrives with an eye to having his way with Marwood whether he wants it or not.
Whilst "Withnail & I" is not a movie about students it is in many ways a British student movie, a comical look at two men who share a flat and stumble through life, frequenting pubs and getting drunk to obliterate the misery of their existence. It is why over the years that this movie has become a cult classic amongst the British University crowd with its comedy surrounding Withnail and Marwood's attempts to holiday in the countryside, deal with Uncle Morty's advances and in the case of Withnail drink anything which will keep him from clarity and the knowledge of his lousy life. Having said that you don't need to have experienced the struggle of eating cold chips the morning after and drinking what ever you can to appreciate it but I am sure it certainly helps.
But whilst I stand by my belief that "Withnail & I" definitely speaks to a certain type of audience that doesn't take away from Bruce Robinson's brilliant writing. And I do mean brilliant because every single line in this movie contains a gem and when you watch it again, which even if it doesn't set your world on fire I recommend you do, there will be some subtle little wording which reveals itself. To put it bluntly "Withnail & I" is one of those movies which is often quoted, phrases have fallen into common usage that some people use without even knowing that they sprung from this movie and that is down to Robinson's script. But at the same time when you learn that "Withnail & I" is also based on Robinson's own experiences of living in a drunken haze with an alcoholic flat mate there is also something quite touching about how this drama plays out as Marwood tries to cling on to some form of normality whilst Withnail swigs back lighter fluid and looks for anti-freeze to drink.
On that note it has to be said that "Withnail & I" whilst a well written movies is also a well acted movie and of course will be the movie Richard E. Grant will forever be known for. His performance as Withnail is not only visually amusing as he stomps around in a drunken anger but also full of great lines perfectly delivered so that everything Withnail says is either funny or has some deeper meaning. And that is the thing about Grant's performance because whilst funny you also feel for Withnail as he becomes increasingly helpless bordering on the self loathing.
Whilst Grant will always be best remembered Paul McGann is just as good as Marwood, making him this sympathetic character who you can sense is trying hard to cling on to life in a world which is spiralling out of drunken control. And then there is Richard Griffiths who is simply hilarious as the rampantly flirtatious Uncle Morty especially during the cooking scene.
What this all boils down to is that I like "Withnail & I", I think it is a great movie, well written, memorably funny and featuring a trio of brilliant performances. But it doesn't quite rock my world like it does for others and I purely put that down to the sober state I was in the first time I watched it.