Thursday, 18 March 2010

We Just Ran Out Of Wine. What Are We Going To Do About It?

Quickly, quickly. Am so behind on these. 13, in fact, not including this one, or the one I'm about to write. Oh dear. I think my weekend activities have now been decided for me.

Withnail & I has been on my radar for years and years years, since an old colleague told me I had to see it as I'd love it. In fact, I believe she said that I was quite similar to Withnail. Looking back, I don't know how to take that... The film is apparently based reasonably closely on the life of writer/director Bruce Robinson at the time the film is set, in 1969. Richard E Grant makes his film debut as Withnail, a struggling actor living with I (this is how he's credited in the film... actually, he's credited as '& I' but that is way to weird to have as a character name in a writeup - he's played by Paul McGann) in a rundown flat in Camden Town, London. They are both impoverished alcoholics (Withnail much more so), struggling to find coins to feed the gas meter and hiding out in bars because at least there it is warm. Waiting on news on acting roles, they decide to escape the city for the country home of I's wealthy uncle, only to discover that it is run down, freezing, foodless and surrounded by hostile locals. The uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), turns up in the middle of the night to join them, erroneously informed by pathological liar Withnail that I is a homosexual. Monty, being a raging queen, wants a crack, but I saves himself with a lie that he and Withnail are in fact in a committed, closeted relationship. I quickly tires of Withnail, and receives a telegram saying that he has received a part, with the two soon returning to London, I cutting off his hippy locks and heading on his merry way, leaving Withnail to despair alone with a bottle in a park in the rain.

That's roughly the gist of the film, but it doesn't do justice to the hilarious writing contained within. Brilliant, razor sharp and often lightning fast dialogue crackles between the eponymous pair, back and forthing the way only good friends are able to do. The exploration of the end of the 1960s and the oncoming comedown and loss of idealistic hope brought about by the arrival of the new decade is perfect, with Withnail hanging on to his dream while I goes off to accept reality. My friend (another one, who actually dragged me around to watching this film) said that she didn't really like it the first time she watched it as a kid, liked it when she older, and now psychotically loves it, and I can see that this could be very easy to do. I'd like to watch it again, knowing what is going on, as it would allow me to take pleasure in some of the finer details she pointed out as the film went along, which one wouldn't notice until one has the time to look past the foreground action. Definitely worthwhile, especially for fans of British black comedy. 4 stars.

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