Sunday 9 December 2007

Withnail & I (1987) Bruce Robinson

Somehow I've never seen all of this film. I saw parts of it in student flats here and there back in the eighties and earlier nineties but never all of it and it's really about time. It's high up on the British Film Institute's list of the greatest British films of all time and it's quite possibly one of the most quotable cult films of all time. The cast is impeccable too: Richard E Grant in his outrageous debut appearance; Paul McGann long before he would become Doctor Who, also in his debut; the always memorable Richard Griffiths; Ralph Brown, the roadie in Wayne's World 2 and Michael Elphick, TV's Boon.

We're in Camden Town in 1969, where Withnail and I, who is not named in the film, are perennially unemployed actors attempting to get through life the only way they can, which generally involves copious amounts of alcohol or whatever might approximate it with whatever they get on unemployment cheques. There's really no plot at all, which leaves us paying attention only to the characters themselves, the situations they find themselves in, and the way they're written and acted.

Marwood (the 'I' of the title) is touchy and paranoid and understands or misunderstands everything, Withnail is blissfully free of all connections to reality and flounders whenever confronted with anything remotely down to earth. Both are impeccably depicted by Richard E Grant and Paul McGann, with talent well beyond their experience. Griffiths plays Withnail's Uncle Monty as a rich and pouting homosexual with the hots for 'I', something that Withnail plays up to in order to get access to Monty's cottage for a holiday. Ralph Brown is hilarious in that bizarre monotonal voice of his, waxing philosophical while sounding like he has no brain.

I honestly don't know what to think of this film. It's powerful, for sure, it's highly quotable, it contains some outstanding performances. But is it enjoyable? I couldn't stop watching but I don't think I really enjoyed it. I have a feeling it's like a friend that you learn more about through association over time. The thing is that one man's friend is not another's. It doesn't make him any less a friend, just not necessarily mine.

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