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April 5, 2004 | by  | in Film |
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(Classic Film Review) Withnail and I

Directed by Bruce Robinson
UK (1987)
“Monty you terrible cunt!”

To paraphrase the masterfully grandiloquent Yule Sukmeov – this is one cuntingly good movie. The English do sarcasm and absurdity ridiculously well. Think The Office and Monty Python to name-check just two. Withnail and I is a must-see film which I would not hesitate to place alongside those esteemed comedic gems in the pantheon of piss-your-pants funny Brit com.

Two booze-soaked, wannabe actors – Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood/I (Paul McGann) live in squalor in 1960s London. They pass the time by refusing to do the dishes, offending homophobic Irishmen, swigging lighter fluid and generally being miserable gits (ahh those Pommie stereotypes). Then the opportunity to retreat to Withnail’s uncle’s cottage in the Penrith countryside presents itself and the budding thesps can’t get there fast enough. Things don’t unfold quite as smoothly as planned. It rains constantly and their basic survival skills are tested to the limit. But it is Uncle Monty’s unexpected visit that precipitates the proverbial hitting the fan and many thigh-slapping moments ensue. It transpires that Monty (Pie in the Sky’s Richard Griffiths), despite being a pompous failed actor himself (his greatest regret is that he never got to play ‘the Dane’) and vegetable enthusiast (he waxes lyrical about the virtues of a “firm, young carrot”), is amorously inclined towards sensitive, young Marwood.

Needless to say poor Marwood is left to extricate himself from a particularly sticky, almost unwatchable situation. After Monty’s suitably embarrassed exit, Withnail and Marwood jump back in their clapped-out Jag and return to London only to find they have acquired some interesting house guests – namely Danny, their drug dealer (another exquisite performance from Ralph Brown – you trainspotters out there will recognise him as Del “and I had to beat the Sri Lankan shopkeeper and his son to death with their own shoes for one thousand brown M&Ms or Ozzy wouldn’t go on stage that night” Preston from Wayne’s World 2). Like a cross between Keith Richards and Del Preston (talk about typecasting), Danny helpfully dispenses pearls of hilarious stoner logic to Withnail and Marwood. The film closes rather poignantly with Marwood leaving to take up an acting gig and Withnail reciting Shakespeare in the pouring rain.

The film favours a cut-and-paste collage of perfectly-executed comedic sketches strung together over a meandering amorphousness which passes for a plot to heighten the ludicrous factor. For first-time writer/director Robinson, the film is as much an anarchic laugh-fest as it is a loosely autobiographical homage to his own wild-child days. He based Withnail on a close friend of his who died tragically and the movie does at times strike a few melancholy notes. Richard E. Grant (a teetotaller in ‘real-life’) is superb as the goggle-eyed, perpetually-wired, scarecrow-ish and amoral Withnail. Paul McGann plays the straight man (much to old queen Monty’s disappointment) and provides the gooey moral centre to an otherwise extremely decadent but hugely entertaining seedy portrayal of ‘60s London. You really should stop half-arsedly doing the crossword and reading the drivel in the letters pages and leave your lecture to rent this film now – it’s funny haha.

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