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Review: Withnail & I
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Withnail & I (1987) is a masterpiece of British dark-comic satire written and directed by actor, novelist, and screenwriter Bruce Robinson, who went on to write and direct How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), another strong film in a similar vein. His career seems to have petered out, though, after a couple of flops, Jennifer 8 (1992) and The Rum Diary (2011).

Richard E. Grant made his film debut playing Withnail. (He was also the lead in How to Get Ahead in Advertising.) Paul McGann played Marwood, the “I” in the title. Richard Griffiths played Withnail’s uncle Monty. Ralph Brown played the drug-dealer/stoner Danny. The film also has lovely original music by David Dundas and Rick Wentworth and makes memorable use of a couple of songs by Jimi Hendrix.

Withnail & I was tastefully produced on a modest budget and became a commercial and critical success, routinely included in various critics’ “best of” lists, launching both Robinson’s and Grant’s careers, and influencing many other writers and directors. But don’t let that discourage you: Withnail & I is genuinely good.

Withnail & I takes place in London and the Lake Country of northern England in September of 1969. Withnail and Marwood are two drunken, drug-addicted, unemployed actors living in a filthy and freezing apartment in London’s Camden Town.

The movie opens as they are coming down from a sixty-hour speed trip. Marwood puts a kettle on the stove, then forgets about it, wandering off to a greasy spoon for some breakfast. But he is too paranoid and frazzled to function, so he retreats home, where he bickers with Withnail, then ends up spooning coffee from a bowl as Withnail rants about the cold, his career, and his need for a drink. In desperation, Withnail downs lighter fluid then vomits on Marwood’s shoes. Then they go out to a pub, where they order gin and ciders. This is still morning, mind you. Yes, alcoholism and drug addiction “aren’t funny,” but Withnail and Marwood are totally hilarious.

Marwood really needs a break, a reset. Like many city people, he has a romantic image of the countryside but little experience of it. He persuades Withnail to ask his rich uncle Monty for the key to his cottage in the Lake Country. So Withnail and Marwood go off to Monty’s luxurious house in Chelsea for drinks and dinner.

Monty, brilliantly played by Richard Griffiths, is a hugely fat, middle-aged eccentric. (He decorates with potted vegetables rather than flowers, flowers being “the tarts of the vegetable kingdom.”) Educated at Eton and Oxford, he is an upper middle-class aesthete, gourmand, and homosexual. After an enormous amount of alcohol and a couple of whispered confidences, Withnail extracts the key from Monty.

When Withnail and Marwood arrive at Monty’s cottage, it is not what they expected: no electricity, no running water, no fridge full of food. Withnail is perpetually drunk and helpless, always whining and complaining. But Marwood rises to the occasion. He proves to be down-to-earth, capable, and responsible, securing food and firewood.

As they wander the green hills to lovely pastoral music and encounter a gallery of colorful rural types—a farmer, a poacher, an old drunk—you sense something awakening in Marwood. Withnail, however, remains entirely self-absorbed, wrapped up in his insecurities, ambitions, and the quest for his next drink. “We want the finest wines known to humanity,” he shouts in the Penrith tearoom. “We want them here, and we want them now!”

After a couple days, uncle Monty shows up in his majestic Rolls Royce, heaped with hampers full of gourmet food and wine. Withnail rejoices at the food and especially the wine. But Marwood finds it an extremely uncomfortable experience, for Monty has somehow gotten the idea that Marwood is sexually interested in him. (It is never made clear if Marwood and Withnail are homosexuals or not.)

After an excruciatingly embarrassing attempt at seduction, the truth comes out. Withnail told Monty that Marwood was a closeted homosexual, a “toilet trader” no less. He also apparently led Monty to believe that there was mutual interest. Why? Simply to secure the cottage for a week. It is a cruel, irresponsible trick on both Marwood and Monty. Monty, however, is not a bad man. He has a sense of shame, which is deeply stirred.

Monty is an unmarried man past middle age at a crossroads faced by straight and gay alike: Does he pursue people young enough to be his children, inevitably playing and looking the fool, or does he magnanimously retire from the scene and instead devote himself to fostering the happiness of the next generation? He chooses the latter.

The next morning, Monty is gone, leaving an exquisitely sensitive note of apology. Withnail, being a sociopath, is unmoved by Monty’s plight but delighted that he left his supply of food and drink. Marwood, however, is outraged, both for Monty and for himself.

Marwood insists on rushing back to London. He has been offered a part in a play in Manchester. He ends up with the lead. When they return home, they find their drug dealer, Danny, and a “huge spade” named Presuming Ed squatting in their apartment. The contrast to the countryside could not be more striking. It is a revolting situation.

As Danny rolls a huge joint and passes it around, he discourses hilariously about the historical moment:

If you are holding onto a rising balloon you are presented with a difficult political decision—let go while you’ve still got the chance or hold onto the rope and continue getting higher. That’s politics man. We are at the end of an age. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is nearly over. They’re selling hippy wigs in Woolworth’s. It is ninety-one days to the end of the decade, and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.

When they find an eviction notice, Marwood freaks out while Withnail can’t stop laughing. Clearly this living arrangement has no future.

The next morning, Marwood is packing up his stuff. His hippy shag has been replaced with a short haircut. He looks handsome, well-groomed, healthy, and purposeful. Withnail is his typical shambling wreck of a self. It’s morning, so naturally, he wants to get drunk. Given a choice between a drink and catching his train—a drink or his future—Marwood chooses life.

Withnail walks with him to the station through Regent’s Park in the rain, drinking, until Marwood tells him that he will miss him but not to follow him to the station. This is where their ways must part. Withnail then drunkenly launches into Hamlet’s soliloquy on “What a piece of work is man” to an audience of wolves in the zoo. The end.

Withnail & I comes off as a somewhat random sequence of amusing events. I have left out quite a few of them, so if you haven’t seen it, there will be plenty of surprises. However, the movie hangs together as a story because the events reveal the characters of Withnail and Marwood (as well as Monty), and their characters ultimately determine their destinies.

Both Withnail and Marwood are drunkards, addicts, and actors. But even though you do not see them, you know that they will have very different fates.

Withnail is from the upper-middle class. He drives a beat-up Jaguar. His father is rich like his uncle. Like Monty, he went to Eton. Withnail’s chief character traits are vanity, cowardice, and dishonesty. He lies constantly. He tells a bully in a bar that he has a heart condition and a pregnant wife. He tells Monty that Marwood went to Eton and lies about his sex life. He tells a bartender that he was in the military to get free drinks. He tells the customers of the Penrith tearoom that he is scouting a location for a movie. Withnail doesn’t seem to have any practical skills at all, beyond knowing how mix drinks and choose a tie. He is extremely far gone into addiction, and he probably won’t pull out. But the safety net of his family is good for a few bounces before he ends up in the gutter.

Marwood is from a lower social rung. He went to a grammar school. There is no mention of college. There is no mention of family money or a safety net. Marwood is cowardly and dishonest too, but he also has a sense of shame. Marwood is also much more serious and capable than Withnail. He makes a go of things at the cottage, manages to get the lead in a play, cuts his hair, and heads to Manchester.

Danny’s discourse on the historical moment is also about Withnail and Marwood. Addiction is the balloon. Marwood has let go, but he will survive his fall back to earth. Withnail will keep holding on as the balloon goes up. His long-term prospects are bleak.

The title of the film is significant. Marwood is “I,” not “me.” He is an agent, about to embark on the next chapter of his life, leaving Withnail behind. If Withnail were to tell the story, it would be called Marwood & Me, because as an addict, Withnail is not an agent but someone to whom things happen, someone for whom people like Marwood have to do things. Marwood is an enabler, Withnail the enabled. But it is time for Marwood to enable himself.

Withnail & I is a hilarious film about serious things. It is a coming-of-age film, a parting-of-ways film, with a wonderful script, superb acting, and tasteful music. Richard Grant is utterly hilarious playing a narcissist and drunk. Richard Griffiths is brilliant as uncle Monty, playing him as a buffoon, then a pest, then an exquisitely sensitive and gracious gentleman. Paul McGann is also outstanding as Marwood. He’s flawed but starts showing real character and maturity. You will be rooting for him.

Perhaps the soberest thing about Withnail & I is its treatment of addiction. Yes, Richard E. Grant is a hilarious drunk, but it’s no laughing matter. Perhaps the worst reaction to Withnail & I is that it has spawned a drinking game, in which people try to keep up with Withnail, who in the course of the film downs “912 glasses of red wine, one-half imperial pint (280 ml) of cider, one shot of lighter fluid (vinegar or overproof rum are common substitutes), ​212 measures of gin, six glasses of sherry, thirteen drams of Scotch whisky, and ​12 pint of ale” according to a DVD featurette “The Withnail & I Drinking Game.” It’s rather like taking up heroin after watching Requiem for a Dream. The only way you can win is not to play.

I don’t know what Bruce Robinson’s politics are, but objectively Withnail & I is a conservative film. (I highly recommend Milennial Woes’ 2017 speech on this subject, which was my introduction to the film.) Withnail & I is not just about growing up, but about growing out of the 1960s, including its culture of expressive individualism and addictive self-indulgence.

Even uncle Monty is a conservative of sort. Like many pre-Stonewall homosexuals of his class, he is educated, cultivated, and sees himself as a repository and guardian of history and culture. He knows Shakespeare, speaks Latin, listens to classical music, cooks well, and keeps an excellent cellar. He acted in his youth but couldn’t make a career of it, so he made a good living doing something else. (It is never clear what Monty actually does, but then a gentleman wouldn’t talk about such things.)

ORDER IT NOW

Monty asks Marwood: “Are you a sponge or a stone?” A sponge absorbs new experiences; a stone is closed off to them. Monty is a sponge. He is a refined materialist rueful of England’s decline into vulgar materialism. He’s a fat man, so he’s clearly self-indulgent, but unlike his nephew, he doesn’t seem to be a drunkard. Nor is Monty a sponge in the sense of a parasite on others. He’s self-sufficient, practical, and accomplished: he has an income; he can cook; he can plan excursions, etc. He knows how to live. Withnail is a sponge of a lower order. He’s undiscriminating enough to drink lighter fluid. He’s also a parasite on the money, expertise, pity, and opinions of others.

The first morning at the cottage, Monty launches into a hilarious little speech over breakfast:

The older order changeth, giving way to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways, and soon, I suppose, I shall be swept away by some vulgar little tumor. My boys, we are at the end of an age. We live in a land of weather forecasts and breakfasts that set in. Shat on by Tories, shoveled up by Labour. Now which of you is going to be a splendid fellow and go down to the Rolls for the rest of the wine?

Monty senses that the age of British high culture is ending with “the sixties.” But Danny laments that the sixties are almost over. Sadly, we still haven’t come down from that trip. Is it too much to hope that the end of Danny’s age will be the return of something like Monty’s? Perhaps that’s Marwood’s future. It’s up to all of us to write the sequel. But to do so, we’ve all got to say goodbye to our Withnails.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Britain, Comedy, Movies 
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  1. When I was working temp jobs in NYC in 2005 this fat white girl mentioned it in the office and the others seemed to know the movie like it was -the best thing since baked bread. They all couldn’t’ve been over 25. So I rented it and watched it.,

    And sincerely all I remember was that I felt it was a “nice” little film. But somehow it had become esteemed and well-known to 20-somethings on the East Coast by 2005.

    Your review doesn’t really clear up the matter much., But your review is like that white girl: I’m sure it will provoke many to see the film. I just wish your review provoked me to understand it better.

  2. ” It is ninety-one days to the end of the decade, and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black”.

    An interesting anecdote regarding Paint in Black (the video should start at the correct point)

    They released the Satanic Majesties album the following year. I wonder if The Devils Advocate movie, which used Paint it Black, influenced the making of the Matrix which seemed to be a desperate attempt to avoid the most obvious conclusion i.e. a distractor.

    • Replies: @Mustapha Mond
  3. Excellent review.

    • Replies: @Parsnipitous
  4. @Parsnipitous

    It’s funny how you can give a pretty complete plot synopsis and still not reveal much on how one will *view* the movie. “Spoiler alerts” are for morons.

  5. Plot summary and criticism are the same thing [email protected]#$*^^!

  6. Sean says:

    I would say the odds are long against friendships between heavy drinker men lasting, so Marwood’s healthy decision was not key to him saying goodbye to Withal.

    Withnail doesn’t seem to have any practical skills at all, beyond knowing how mix drinks and choose a tie. He is extremely far gone into addiction, and he probably won’t pull out. But the safety net of his family is good for a few bounces before he ends up in the gutter.

    I think Withnail is way beyond being a drunk. His is a psychotic alcoholism fating him to an early grave, and he knows it. Such drinking and expiring prior tp one’s ones sixth decade is not unusual among truly great actors Warren Oates and Brit Ian Hendy for example.

    The real classically trained but rarely working actor the character of Withal was based on, Vivian MacKerrell, was as his name suggests of Highland Scottish extraction. People of that ancestry make up a very high relative proportion of psychotic alcoholic admissions in London hospitals. The German philosopher Fichte said it centuries ago: whether one believes destiny is all in one’s stars or a matter of choosing one path among many depends on the standpoint one begins from. In other words the meaning we find in life depends on what kind of person one happens to be (itself DNA as we now know).

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
  7. Dumbo says:

    I saw it years ago, but it left a muddled impression… I think it’s the type of movie that doesn’t ‘translate’ well. It is very British, and from a particular time in Britain I suppose, including the slang. Not sure what to think of it really, don’t plan to rewatch it for now… But with this stupid lockdown going on, I might as well…

  8. MarkU says:

    I think this is an awful review, a good little film viewed through a very narrow moralising lens. I really hate it when a hack seeks to impose their own meta-narratives onto a piece of art, particularly when they have to distort the work in question in order to make it fit.

    The film is not about drug addiction, not even about alcoholism, the only addictive drug consumed during the entire film. The Withnail character has been blackened and the Marwood character whitewashed in order to support the authors crappy thesis. Both characters are capable of lying, they both spin tales in the cake shop for example. The lies Withnail told in the pub were to avoid a beating by a large aggressive bully and quite understandable in the situation. Despite his many flaws Withnail was never really a bad guy and at the end showed no resentment over his younger friends good fortune. Richard E Grant’s performance of Hamlet’s soliloquy on “What a piece of work is man” was simply superb and was for me one of the most moving scenes ever seen in a film.

    • Replies: @Trevor Lynch
  9. Gordo says:

    a “toilet trader” no less

    Is slang for a male prostitute, kudos to you for not knowing.

    Line I liked best: ‘Two octuple scotches please!’

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
  10. Ray P says:

    Withnail doesn’t tell Uncle Monty that Marwood attended Eton – he says that he went to ‘the other place’ (presumably meaning Harrow which is the great public school rival to Eton).

    The original end of the film had Withnail, after delivering his Hamlet soliloquy to the animals in the park zoo, return to the squalid flat (from where he was about to be evicted) and take up Monty’s shotgun, which he had stolen from the cottage, and use it to blow his brains out, Hemingway (Kurt Cobain) style. The producer, who had many disagreements with the first-time director-writer, felt that this was too depressing and so it wasn’t filmed as written. Had it featured it would certainly be a kick-in-the-balls to the audience. It absolutely would have painted it black.

    The writer-director had previously written the screenplay for The Killing Fields, a liberal anguish movie which received many kudos, and, a couple of years after Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson wrote and directed How to get ahead in advertising, also starring Richard E. Grant, who portrays a wild and outrageously unpleasant advertising executive in an author-tract against the evils of Thatcherism.

    • Replies: @GeeBee
    , @Trevor Lynch
    , @Sean
  11. @Sean

    That was so…DEEP.

    • Replies: @Sean
  12. GeeBee says:
    @Ray P

    It’s the other way around. Withnail and his uncle Monty were at Harrow. When Withnail tells Monty that Marwood ‘was at the other place’, Monty replies “Oh, he was at Eton”. Etonians do not refer to Harrow as ‘the other place’. It is Harrovians that refer to Eton in that way.

    • Thanks: Ray P
    • Replies: @Trevor Lynch
  13. @Ray P

    Monty:
    Where did you school?
    Withnail:
    He went to the other place Monte.
    Monty:
    Oh you went to Eton?
    [The cat reappears on I’s chair.]

    • Thanks: Ray P
  14. Liza says:

    Why would we bother to rent this film if you tell us the whole story, in detail? I don’t consider this a review. JMO.

    • Replies: @paddy
    , @Trevor Lynch
  15. Sean says:
    @Ray P

    The speech from Hamlet (who is clearly wondering whether to kill himself or not) as given by Withnail alone in the rain after Marwood leaves in the final scene, has last line omitted and the penultimate one “No, nor woman neither” repeated. Of course Withnail is gay and loves Marwood. It would be gilding the lily to have Withnail kill himself with a gun. My reading of the actual end with was that quaffing like that, challenging the dealer to spike him, and drinking a bottle of lighter fluid, Withnail’s life will be short and that suits him because he has already had quite enough.

    Richard E. Grant has unlikely looks for a successful actor (said his inspiration was Donald Sutherland simply for the fact he got work despite a very long thin face) You cannot see Withnail being ‘discovered’. Paul McGann’s Marwood is very good looking, you can see with a modicum of talent and balls enough to knock on doors he can make it– not playing comedic caricatures either. Marwood’s suicide or headlong rush into an early grave would seem random; would have made a great film though no one would have liked it.

    THE hallucinogenic, category-breaking, and fabulist quality of dreams means they are extremely different from the “training set” of the animal, i.e., their daily experiences. The diurnal cycle of fitting to tasks during the day, and avoiding overfitting at night via a semi-random walk of experiences, may be viewed as a kind of “simulated annealing” (Kirkpatrick et al., 1983) in the brain. That is, it is the very strangeness of dreams in their divergence from waking experience that gives them their biological function.[…] Finally, it is worth taking the idea of dream substitutions seriously enough to consider whether fictions, like novels or films, act as artificial dreams, accomplishing at least some of the same function. Within evolutionary psychology, the attempt to ground aspects of human behavior in evolutionary theory, there has been long-standing confusion with regard to human interest in fictions, since on their surface fictions have no utility. They are, after all, explicitly false information. Therefore it has been thought that fictions are either demonstrations of cognitive fitness in order to influence mate choice (Hogh-Olesen, 2018), or can simply be reduced to the equivalent of “cheesecake” — gratifying to consume but without benefit. Proponents of this view have even gone so far as to describe the arts as a “pleasure technology” (Pinker, 1997). However, the OBH suggests fictions, and perhaps the arts in general, may actually have an underlying cognitive utility in the form of improving generalization and preventing overfitting, since they act as artificial dreams.

    The audience want it everything to be put into logical boxes (a homosexual alcoholic without talent is on a downwardly mobile path to a very sicky end), but life is …er, just like that. Hence the dream factory that actors toil in.

    • Replies: @Ray P
    , @GeeBee
    , @James O'Meara
  16. Spree says:

    I always thought the Hamlet soliloquy was proof Withnail was the superior actor, but didn’t try hard enough – possibly due to thinking he didn’t have to due to his affluent background – and after all, acting is a difficult career. Who knows, really. The man Withnail is based on (Vivian MacKerrell) was like that according to Bruce Robinson. They have “star quality” but instead go out in a blaze of glory. There is something very “rock n roll” (or even “punk”) in having the great education but throwing it away.

    Bruce Robinson is a fairly standard left-liberal boomer, but his experiences as a down-and-out as a young man probably made him very cynical. Withnail is a very cynical film. Even Marwood is cynical. Cynicism is pathway to the Right, but not everybody takes it. Withnail and Iis interesting in that it features virtually no women, and what women there are are old, bossy and fat. Robinson has talked about this – saying something like “That was what it was like for us at that age – there simply were no women present in our lives, and they were not interested in unemployed losers like us.” There are some subtle redpills in there, and some young liberal guys are woken up by that kind of thing. Some aren’t, and just redouble their efforts to “get a head in” life (so to speak) and end up reinforcing the liberal status quo. In more recent videos of interviews with Bruce Robinson he tends to apologize regularly for the politically incorrect content in the film.

    There’s a lot of great stuff in the film that you could talk about for ages. If anyone is interested I recommend checking out the screenplay (Bloomsbury Paperbacks). There is stuff in there left out of the final film. Such as the scene (while waiting for the employment telegrams in the cottage) where Withnail and I do some fencing with two mock swords they see lying around.

  17. paddy says:
    @Liza

    “ Why would we bother to rent this film if you tell us the whole story, in detail?”

    Simply because you want the finest film available to humanity! You want it here and you want it now!

    • LOL: Pheasant, GeeBee
  18. @Liza

    I didn’t tell the whole story in detail, and I make that point very clear.

    • Replies: @Liza
  19. @MarkU

    The film begins at the end of a speed trip, downers are also referenced and displayed, and pot is smoked at the end.

    I mention the fact that Marwood too is dishonest. The difference is that he has a sense of shame.

    Your reaction is almost identical to that of a pothead that I know. Addicts are very protective of their vices.

    • Replies: @Pheasant
  20. Liza says:
    @Trevor Lynch

    Maybe so. But some of us want only the briefest of storylines while getting a thorough review. I guess it’s walking on a knife edge to get it that way.

  21. Pheasant says:

    ‘Yes, alcoholism and drug addiction “aren’t funny,” but Withnail and Marwood are totally hilarious.’

    All together now…

    ‘I DEMAND THE FINEST WINES AVAILABLE TO HUMANITY!’

    Who has ever played the college drinking game a g and t with richard e g?

    Most people substitute overproof rum for lighter fluid.

  22. I feel sorry for people who only knew Richard Griffiths as Harry Potter’s uncle. His Uncle Monty is one of the all time great comic film characters, a true fop if there ever was one.

    • Replies: @Ray P
  23. @Pheasant

    What is your vice Greg?

    Taking anons on the web seriously.

    Also: buying books faster than I can read them.

    • LOL: Pheasant
    • Replies: @Pheasant
  24. Ray P says:
    @Sean

    Personally I think Withnail is Ambigiously Gay. Marwood is a good looking guy as you point out yet we see no indication of Withnail ever having tried anything. There is an aspect of the bickering gay couple about the pair of course and it is compounded by the almost complete absence of women from the film. I can recall the farmer’s mother (?) whom Marwood speaks with briefly as the only dialogue part for a female apart from the schoolgirl on the London road who shouts abuse at Withnail after he taunts her group (“Scrubbers!”) while driving past. FWIW, the writer-director, Bruce Robinson, based on a couple of interviews I read decades ago, is heterosexual (at one point he mentioned living with his girlfriend). The moment in the film when Withnail complains bitterly about an actor beating him to a part with an Italian (?) director because he offered him sex (‘Five Pounds for each tit and a tenner for his arse!’) derived from Robinson’s experience of working with and observing close-up a famous Italian film director who was gay. It also suggests a certain hostility toward homosexuals by Withnail. I have the impression that he is too egotistically self-centered and abrasive to get involved with anyone.

    I like the irony of casting an ‘unattractive’ actor in the lead role of an actor who is too unattractive to get cast.

    • Replies: @James O'Meara
    , @Ray P
  25. Ray P says:
    @Johnny Smoggins

    It would have been funnier (or horrific – or both) had he played Potter’s uncle like Monty. Cries of anguish could be heard under the stairs.

  26. GeeBee says:
    @Sean

    Most of the women whom I have discussed Richard E Grant with have said they thought him extraordinarily good looking. Your comment that he ‘has unlikely looks for a successful actor’ therefore came as a surprise.

    • Replies: @James O'Meara
  27. Pheasant says:
    @Trevor Lynch

    Are you sure?

    Not middlebrow criticism?

    Well at least you dont have that dangerous second glass of Chardonnay.

    I guessed wrong at a love of purple drapes…

  28. GeeBee says:
    @Pheasant

    Greg? You’ve lost me. Who is Greg?

    • Replies: @Pheasant
  29. Pheasant says:
    @GeeBee

    Dr Greg Johnson writes movie reviews under the pen name Trevor Lynch.

    His main output is here:

    https://counter-currents.com/

    • Thanks: GeeBee
  30. @Sean

    “Richard E. Grant has unlikely looks for a successful actor (said his inspiration was Donald Sutherland simply for the fact he got work despite a very long thin face”

  31. Dear Trevor,

    A co-worker who knows my deep-seated Withnail addiction forwarded me the link to this article. So glad you wrote this – more people need to see and understand this film.

    I was introduced to “Withnail & I” by two late greats: Anthony Bourdain and Robert Osborne (host on Turner Classic Movies). Bourdain was a guest host, and was asked by Mr. Osborne to tell us the top five movies that, in his opinion, no one should die without seeing. “Withnail & I” was on his list.

    I watched the movie, which luckily I had recorded, and then I watched it again. And again. To date, I have seen it 238 times. In 2012, I started curating a collection of any and all items seen in the film. At this moment, I have collected 84 notable items. These are not “movie props”, they are bona fide vintage items that are identical to the vintage items used in the film. Photos of the items as well as where they appear in the film are provided for your viewing pleasure.

    If you would like to see this collection, please visit the “Wall-O-Withnail” (so named because all the items in the collection are displayed on the wall of my computer room) at http://wall-o-withnail.blogspot.com/

    Because of the Wall-O-Withnail, I have become friends with both Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant. I have photos on the site of my first meeting with “Withnail” himself. I haven’t met Bruce in person (yet), but we have been exchanging letters for the past seven years.

    Withnail fans and film industry folks from around the world have also contacted me, and even sent me items for the W.o.W. or directed me to items for sale which would add to the collection. Among my treasured items is a Camberwell Carrot, made especially for my collection by Withnail props master, Steve Payne.

    Drop by my site, I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

    Cheers!

  32. @Ray P

    ” There is an aspect of the bickering gay couple about the pair of course and it is compounded by the almost complete absence of women from the film. I can recall the farmer’s mother (?) whom Marwood speaks with briefly as the only dialogue part for a female apart from the schoolgirl on the London road who shouts abuse at Withnail after he taunts her group (“Scrubbers!”) while driving past.”

    As a comment above mentioned, the film is period-accurate in the absence of women. I suppose as in most everything else connected with “the swinging 60s” (stereo, cars, etc.) the Brits were always a bit behind the curve due to lingering WWII poverty, so “sexual liberation” hadn’t quite spread around enough, unlike say San Francisco. Poverty + traditional “repressive” sexual mores means young men spend most of their time with each other, which seems rather “gay” today.

    Philip Larkin famously wrote that

    Sexual intercourse began
    In nineteen sixty-three
    (which was rather late for me) –
    Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
    And the Beatles’ first LP.

    Hence all the complaints about “no good roles for women.” Consider the Godfather (late 40s early 50s); how many women? Good girl Kate, Connie who stays home to be beaten by Carlo, Apollonia (who gets blown up), Momma of course, and a whore who gets shot along with one of the mobsters at the end. Otherwise its only men doing manly things.

    I suppose women are happy, now that every movie is about sluts getting laid all the time.

    • Replies: @Ray P
  33. @GeeBee

    Like Meryl Streep, he has “off-beat good looks.”

    • Replies: @Sean
  34. Ray P says:
    @James O'Meara

    I suppose women are happy, now that every movie is about sluts getting laid all the time.

    Larkin would have cheered, ‘Bring on les girls” was one of his choruses. He also wrote during his final year at Oxford and after in the nineteen forties a pair of novels about life at a girls’-school, Trouble at Willow Gables and Michaelmas Term at St. Bride’s, under the pseudonym Brunette Coleman. The girls in these tales are ambiguously lesbian.

    • Replies: @Ray P
  35. Ray P says:
    @Ray P

    Thinking on one’s years at Oxford, the movie has the following remarks:

    Monty: Laisse-moi, respirer, longtemps, longtemps, l’odeur de tes cheveux. Oh, Baudelaire. Brings back such memories of Oxford. Oh, Oxford…

    Marwood: [voiceover] Followed by yet another anecdote about his sensitive crimes in a punt with a chap called Norman who had red hair and a book of poetry stained with the butter drips from crumpets.

  36. Sean says:
    @James O'Meara

    I do freely confess that I never know what women think is very good looking in a leading man. I have to work back from their success, and I was puzzled by Benedict Cumberbatch’s (before I knew he was the son of Wanda Ventham). Actors need both looks and ability and Cumberbatch’s parents were actors. Meryl Streep is a gifted actor and not so offbeat looking that she has ever found it difficult to get film work , her mother is an artist and two siblings are actors.. I don’t know about him being any great thespian, but would say the Hugh Grant career proved he has the looks women like. Meryl Streep seemed to think so.

    In addition to kissing him, she put her head almost in his lap during this interview. Anyway, actors are usually rather good looking, none more so that those in leading roles. The characters of Withnail And I are actors, who are being played by real actors obviously. Marwood is the one with leading man looks, Withnal is not. I will leave it for others to judge whether Richard E. Grants looks have limited the offers to him for leading roles. However, the last scene of the film proves that Withnail has the greater acting ability, and that performance by Grant indicates that in in the real world Grant is very good actor.

    Ellen Barkin is a very gifted actor, but she had an incredibly long wait to be cast in a leading role–or any kind of role–in a film because producers thought she did not have the looks, despite her great legs and good body. Her success and Streep’s is a bit different to a man’s because women are far more concerned with picking a man that other women find attractive (Sexy son hypothesis) and will even want a man simply because he is desired by other women. Merryl having the hots for Hugh is an instance of that I think. By the way Marwood, makes a bitter reference to the homosexual harassment endured by good looking young actors, so I cannot seem him being at all gay.

    • Replies: @Ray P
    , @Lurker
  37. Ray P says:
    @Sean

    Marwood’s gay panic (starting with the encounter in the loos of the pub) seems to indicate his hostility, but there are exchanges like this one:

    Marwood: How dare you tell him I’m a toilet trader!

    Withnail: Tactical necessity. If I hadn’t told him you were active we’d never have got the cottage.

    Marwood: I’d never have wanted it, not with him in it!

    Withnail: I never thought he’d come all this way.

    Marwood: Monty, he’d go to New York!

    Withnail: Calculated risk.

    Marwood: What is all this tactical necessity and calculated risk? This is me naked in a corner!

    The reference to Marwood not being ‘active’ (in a homosexual sense) at present suggests that he may have once been. Also, the ‘naked in a corner’ is a fairly apt description of Paul McGann in the film because he spends a lot of it undressed. The TV Tropes page for the film states that he acquired a gay fandom because of it.

  38. Ray P says:
    @Ray P

    I feel the need to correct my misquotation about the unnamed actor who got a part on the casting couch:

    Withnail: [looking at a newspaper] Oh, look at this little bastard. “Boy lands plum role for top Italian director” Course he does! Probably on a tenner a day, and I know what for! 2 pound 10 a tit and a fiver for his arse!

    Rates have gone up.

    The tea-room scene has speaking parts for a couple of actresses but nothing of any real consequence.

  39. Lurker says:
    @Sean

    I’ve never thought of Meryl Streep as offbeat looking, just as not good looking. Ellen Barkin otoh – offbeat and definitely sexy/interesting looking.

    • Replies: @Sean
  40. Sean says:
    @Lurker

    ‘Twas not I who said she was. Barkin studied acting for ten years before landing her first audition, and was 28 before appearing in a credited film role.

  41. syonredux says:

    Even uncle Monty is a conservative of sort. Like many pre-Stonewall homosexuals of his class, he is educated, cultivated, and sees himself as a repository and guardian of history and culture.

    The good old days, when homos aspired to be like Waldo Lydecker……

    • Replies: @James O'Meara
  42. In Robinson’s unpublished novel of the story, Withnail kills himself at the end.

  43. dimples says:

    I’ve tried to watch this film twice perhaps about 20 years apart, but failed to finish it each time. I was assured that it was a great film, but the characters are awful, its overwhelmingly dull, and when its all said and done, who cares about what happens to a couple of poofs.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  44. @dimples

    I’ve tried to watch this film twice perhaps about 20 years apart, but failed to finish it each time.

    Yeah. Ugly.

  45. @Gordo

    The upmarket version is “Cottager”.

    Or was back then, I think It’s now more generically sodomite and less specifically transactional,

    • Replies: @Ray P
  46. Ray P says:
    @Bill Jones

    I thought cottaging referred to men seeking sex with other men in public places – such as parks, commons, heaths and particularly public lavatories without any payment necessarily. The film has a scene in a pub loo near the start and the central pair wind up literally cottaging in the countryside and fending off unwanted advances by an aging queen in a cottage.

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