Director: Bruce Robinson
Writer: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths
Loosely based on writer and director’s Bruce Robinson’s experience of living in London in the 1960s, Withnail and I is an all time classic, British black comedy. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann star as the title characters, two struggling and unemployed actors living in London in September 1969. They are unhappy about the state of their careers and approaching thirty and decide to go on holiday in Withnail’s uncle’s countryside cottage.
Withnail is a bizarre and intense character, played perfectly by Richard E. Grant. He’s an alcoholic who drinks to survive, even drinking lighter fluid when there’s no alternative. ‘I’, on the other hand is kind of just stuck in life, not really growing up. Paul McGann also gives a strong performance as ‘I’, who in the screenplay is actually named as Marwood, but this is never mentioned in the actual film or in the credits. Despite being both Grant’s and McGann’s first feature film, although they had both appeared on TV, the film is still one they are both widely well-known for, thanks to its enduring cult status.
There are a lot of funny moments in the film, but the biggest laughs come from the opening sequence in their dirty flat with unwashed dishes and the chance of rodents. As the film goes on it becomes less funny, leading to a sad ending. It mirrors one of the themes of the film, about growing up and acting responsible. Paul McGann’s character has to make some life changing decisions in the final moments that resonate long after the credits roll. There’s an underlying theme of the loss of youth and freedom, mirrored by it’s late 1960s setting where ‘hippie wigs are being sold in Woolworths’. The ideals of the main characters are being lost as the 70s arrive, and their twenties fade into their thirties. It’s a sad ending compared to the absurdist humour of the opening.
Withnail and I has two incredibly strong performances in the lead roles, and is filled with some great funny moments, but still ends on a poignant note. That’s not to mention the great soundtrack, featuring music from The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. It completely lives up to the reputation that it holds, and is still worth watching if you’ve never seen it before.
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