One of the very few good things to come out of the seemingly never-ending lockdown caused by the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity to watch a variety of different films. One title you might want to seek-out is Bruce Robinson’s brilliant 1987 black comedy, Withnail And I.
Robinson’s film has become a cult classic, the perennial piece that students can watch as they imbibe large quantities of alcohol during daylight hours. Richard E.Grant and Paul McGann play the titular characters Withnail And I, two struggling actors who decide to take a break in the country. That’s pretty much the plot, as the duo drink themselves into oblivion while spouting endlessly quotable dialogue (‘We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!’).
Since its release in 1987, the stature of Withnail And I has grown in ways that few involved would have imagined. Based on Robinson’s youth as a struggling actor living in squalor, the film has a touch of poignancy that rings very true. McGann’s low key performance is the perfect counterpoint to Grant’s camp Withnail, keeping things grounded as the latter spits out Robinson’s witticisms. Along for the ride (literally) is Richard Griffiths, giving a gleeful turn as Withnail’s Uncle Monty, a ‘raving homosexual’ who has his eye set on McGann’s ‘And I’.
Withnail And I has become a student favourite because of the carefree nature of the main characters. The characters’ total lack of responsibility fits nicely into that time when there’s nothing to worry about other than having a good time, however, there’s more to it than that. Robinson’s film, although set in 1969, has a lot to say about unemployment in 1980s England. The film is another great example of how George Harrison’s Handmade Films took a unique script and turned it into a film that stood the test of time.
Relatively plot-free, but incredibly well written, Withnail And I is a bold movie that’s as quirky as it is well acted. It’s not for everyone, but those who enjoy it will love it. Just don’t play any drinking games when watching it – you’ll die.