Before I launch into this review, I'd like to share how I came across this movie and why it's my most watched film of all time. I was with my cousin (Georgia) one night - in 1990 - and we were wondering what to watch. I looked at the T.V. guide and saw a picture of Richard E. Grant as Withnail. When I read the blurb out to Georgia, she agreed that it was worth checking out.
On a whim, I called my friend Julie and asked her to tape it for me. I didn't have a VCR and had a hunch that the movie was going to be worth keeping. I wasn't wrong. We pissed ourselves laughing all the way through it - enjoying the deadpan British humor and hilarious antics. The three main actors - Richard E. Grant as Withnail, Paul McGann as "I" (Marwood) and Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty were brilliant.
Georgia and I continued - throughout the years - quoting from the film. Everyone I showed the film to ended up loving it just as much as we did. I watched that video for years - over 100 times, at least. (I am not exaggerating.) When it came out on DVD I snatched it up - and bought another copy when it was released in the Criterion collection.
I also bought a copy of the screenplay and Richard E. Grant's film diaries - just to learn more about the film. It's also my favorite screenplay to read. Brilliant descriptions, characterizations and hilarious anecdotes. What's great about the film is that it's just a personal story, written by Director Bruce Robinson (who also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning "The Killing Fields.")
It doesn't rely on the usual practice of Americanized slapstick - where the actors usually pause after the punchline or pratfall - for applause or reaction. It's all done deadpan and serious - making the antics even more hilarious. There are no sex scenes, romances, car chases, intrigue or other trend-baiting factors. The story and dialogue carry the film without needing to resort to gratuity or schlock.
The acting is superb and the cinematography is breathtaking - whether depicting the gritty streets and life in London in the '60's or the northern countryside. The music is perfectly placed - including Jimi Hendrix and old time songs - making the film a pleasure to lose oneself in.
The film is also jam-packed with hilarious quotes - which I will share at the end of this review. Every line in this film is golden. Not a wasted scene or superfluous moment can be found. It's no wonder it garnered its cult status - with an international following and fanbase that is just as curious as its underground success. (See the extras on the Criterion collection edition.)
Withnail and I was made in England in 1986 (released in 1987). It's a black comedy based on the Director's life in the late '60's, where he was an actor sharing a crumbling home in Camden Town, with other out-of-work actors and people in the arts community. The plot involves two out of work actors - Withnail and Marwood (Marwood being Bruce Robinson's characterization of himself and Withnail representing his pompous "friend") - living in London, set in 1969.
They spend most of their money and time wasting themselves and their money on booze and drugs. Once they run out of wine, they decide to go to the country and "rejuvenate" in Withnail's Uncle's cottage. Once there - unprepared and starving - they meet the locals and continue to spiral downwards. The hilarity ensues - with Uncle Monty arriving suddenly one night - saving the day, as he brings food and wine to share.
It soon becomes obvious that gay old Uncle Monty has ulterior motives. He is attracted to Marwood and has decided to try and seduce him. Horrified - Marwood tries to escape - but Withnail has other ideas, seeing as he is only interested in gratifying the senses - at Uncle Monty's expense. While Marwood does his best to avoid Uncle Monty and Withnail continues to pursue his hedonistic imperatives, it all unravels - with a beautiful and necessary ending which teaches us that fools should only be suffered for a short period of time - or they'll drag us down with them.
Richard Griffiths' Uncle Monty is hilarious with his own version of pomposity - and terribly sad as the ageing queen who is only looking for love. Paul McGann's Marwood (I) is sympathetic, intelligent and sometimes like a lost puppy as he digs his way out of one calamity after another. Richard E. Grant's Withnail is my personal favorite. Bombastic, childish, selfish, pleasure-seeking, lying, conniving, manipulative, preening, snobbish, priggish - and that's only a glimpse into this hilarious character.
We all have stories about unsavory people we've been forced to spend time with - and this story is a wonderful rendition of lessons learned through adventures, failure and the chaos of life that happens while we're waiting for "the moment" - which sometimes never arrives. Apparently it never did for the real Withnail - who drank himself into a stupor - never having made it to the stage or silver screen.
Scenes and Pics
"There are things in there, there's a teabag growing!"
"You bloody fool, you should never mix your drinks!"
The awesome Richard E. Grant as Withnail
"Why can't I get on television? The only program I'm likely to get on is the fucking news!"
"I'm in a park and I'm practically dead."
"I have a heart condition. If you hit me, it's murder."
"Stick it in the soap tray and save it for later."
"I'm told you're a writer too."
"Beastly ungrateful little swine!"
Crow Crag - beautiful
"My boots are in the oven."
"Vegetables again? We'll sprout fucking feelers soon!"
Shooting for fish.
"We've gone on holiday by mistake."
"How can we make it die?"
"Don't threaten me with a dead fish."
"I'm gonna be a star!"
"I've come a long way to see you both."
"Bollocks to the Wellingtons!"
"Cakes and fine wines."
"To a delightful weekend in the country."
"You already said it - twice!"
"Look here, my cousin's a QC."
"What are you doing in my bed?"
The Camberwell Carrot
"I shall miss you, Withnail."
"Nor women neither."