Withnail and I…

Dir: Bruce Robinson, 1986



They say that if you can remember the sixties then you weren’t really there.

Towards the end of the decade, two out of work actors, the permanently inebriated Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the unnamed “I” of the title (Paul McGann), use Withnail’s Uncle Monty’s cottage in the country as an escape from London.

Withnail and I… is director Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical account of his younger days as an actor.

The characters were all based on people he knew and situations he experienced.

Withnail is Robinson’s late friend Vivian Mackarel and “I” is Robinson himself.

It’s a very dry comedy with many quotable lines that have helped the film attain a cult status.

Depending on how you accept comedy, the dryness can be off putting.

If you’re a person who likes their humour in your face, obvious and daft then this really isn’t the film for you.

Billed as a comedy, it’s actually more of a drama with comedic elements, some of which work but others don’t.

Grant is excellent as the lighter fuel drinking thespian, hamming it up in total drunkenness whereas McGann is rather subdued as Robinson’s “I”, looking like a John Lennon reject.

This is Grant’s show all the way.

Despite being autobiographical, Robinson clearly placed Withnail at the forefront as a tribute to his late friend, Vivian.

Richard Griffiths is brilliant as the gay Uncle Monty, sexually obsessed with The heterosexual “I”.

The director alleges that, as a young actor, Franco Zefferelli made countless advances towards him during the filming of Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

And, finally, we have Ralph Brown as the drug dealing, pill popping Danny.

A good portion of the laughs go toward Brown and his slow, stoned drawl assuring the cinema world a place in its lexicon with the “Camberwell Carrot”; a humongous spliff that is, by all accounts, rather potent.

Aside from Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, the soundtrack is very understated and easily forgettable.

The humour isn’t laugh out loud, it just raises a smile every now and again.

Placing the characters in obscure situations isn’t enough to make a comedy.

Michael Elphick’s fish filled poacher is jovial but nothing more.

The hilarity is very subtle and lays in the ordinary dialogue. It will either work for you or it won’t.

Withnail and I… is not a bad film, not by a long shot. It’s entertaining but disappointing when you take into account the accolades that is often bestowed upon it.

A so-so affair.


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