Withnail and I, stunningly British in every way and an iconic representation of the lives of two struggling actors, desperate for their big break.
Set in Camden Town in 1969, Withnail (Richard E Grant) and ‘I’ (Paul McGann), a pair of substance abusing actors who are keen to escape the horrors of their squalid flat and their non-existent careers. After obtaining the keys to a picturesque Lake District cottage, belonging to Withnail’s predatory homosexual uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), the pair set off for a recuperative break – with disastrous consequences.
It’s easy to see why Withnail and I is one of the biggest cult films in British cinema history, and the answer is quite simple – everything about it is undeniably and fantastically that. There are ample amounts of black humour, farce and in some scenes, sadness. If it’s one thing us Brits do best, its humour. Packed full of witty one-liners, Withnail and I is one heck of a quotable film to live by.
We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now! – Withnail.
In my opinion, the characters complete this film. We’re presented with the relatable souls of Withnail and ‘I’, struggling to make a living in their profession. Fast forward forty years – has anything changed? The honest and raw portrayal reality is one of the film’s defining features, with the helpless characters accentuating this even further. We have Withnail, struggling to beat a drug and alcohol addiction, all whilst having admirable talents for acting, ‘I’, the polar opposite of his friend who dreams of a peaceful life, mixed with the flamboyant Uncle Monty, desperate for company and riddled with sadness from years of being alone. If you could ever feel sympathy for a set of film characters, these three are the ones.
You’re not leaving me in here alone. Those are the kind of windows faces look in at – Withnail.
If you’re a fan of dark humour, Withnail and I is certainly worth a watch. It’s full to the brim of disastrous yet hilarious events that really pack a punch on the comedy scale. Not only is the humour morally questionable, but the events throughout the film, (such as shooting a fish) are also rather dark. If this is your cuppa tea, you’ll enjoy this film no end. If you’re not necessarily a fan of fish cruelty or dark humour, my advice would be to watch this film for the underlying message and context, not to mention the undeniably brilliant performances of Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann and the late Richard Griffiths.
Words by Paige Bradshaw