Withnail and I is one of the most quoted films of all time, and chances are you have never heard of it. In the film world, it is one of the most highly regarded cult comedy films of ever made.
It is London in 1969, a strange, eerie period of uncertainty looms over the film as it is the end of the ‘swinging sixties’ one of the most prosperous decades in history. We meet Withnail and Marwood (the ‘I’ character), two hopelessly unemployed, alcoholic actors living in a squalor in Camden. They decide they have had enough of city living and require a short break to the countryside to ‘reinvent’ themselves and find some peace. They head to the Lakes District (made famous by the poetry of William Wordsworth) courtesy of Withnail’s plump, outrageously homosexual, Uncle Monty (played brilliantly by Richard Griffiths). Scenes of rain, sleet and hideous weather are perfectly entertained by seriously heaving smoking and drinking by the titular characters. The true comedy comes about with the arrival of Uncle Monty, who has developed a liking for the polite, unsuspecting Marwood.
For what sounds like a dark, gloomy depressing movie, it is and it isn’t. What makes Withnail and I an instant classic is the character Withnail and the acting of Richard E Grant. Withnail constantly abuses his body, he drinks what is in front of him (including lighter fluid) and smokes more than anyone in film. He is consistently negative and abusive, and in a way seems to particularly hating life. Grant never breaks character, he constantly looks to be in pain and his aggression to the world is brilliant right until the end.
The dialogue in this film is second to none. The constant whining, badgering and poking from Withnail; the worried, angered Marwood, and the overly posh, homosexual Monty, creates an incredible harmony that is not only hilarious but is so easy to watch. The way the dialogue is delivered is first class. These characters may be poor, hopeless and unemployed, but they are in no way uneducated.
If you aren’t as taken by the film as I was, a fun popular game in England is to drink what they drink, when they drink… see how long you can last.
The dark, gloomy backdrop of Withnail and I is masterfully complimented by the incessant banter dialogue and the hopelessness of two alcoholics trying to live and have fun in the countryside that they are so very unequipped for. This is what makes this film still so popular after 25 years. It is my default rainy day movie and I will love it forever.