Withnail & I (1987)

After the (Y) machine took a festive break, the wheels are again starting to turn. To ring in the New Year, I’m going to be telling you about each of my ten favourite movies. it’s been harder than expected to elucidate my feelings on these films, usually “just watch the damn thing” is more effective than a series of ridiculous superlatives, but here goes. I hope you enjoy!

Withnail & I is a film that sticks out in my choices since it has no attachment to any caps-lock AUTEUR whose oeuvre I have intimate knowledge of. In fact I know very little at all about Bruce Robinson. These effectively leaves the film alone on it’s own island, separated from preconceptions and tangible auteuristic links. It is a film I simply enjoy, on face value.

That’s not to say that it is void of anything deeper than face value. It’s tragicomic sensibility, Hamlet quoting ending, English setting and thespian subjects conspire to make it an almost Shakespearean piece about the passing of time and the battle between loyalties of friendship and doing justice to ones self when progress is afoot. It is at it’s bleeding heart a very sad story about a very sad man. But it’s also one the funniest and most quotable films of all time.

It’s from that point of view that the film most appeals to me. As a writer, I can only dream of one day conducing a script of this quality. Such is it’s power that every single line is a gem and with Richard E. Grant’s acerbic delivery they become solidified in that power. His onscreen battles with his put-upon flatmate, only know as the eponymous “I” (Paul McGann), his Uncle Monty (the late Richard Griffiths) and his drug dealer Danny (Ralph Brown) shape him to be sharply intelligent and contradictorily posh and destitute.

In reality his high horse is probably self raised and even more likely a defines mechanism. Withnail is deep down a broken man, at odds with the shifting world around him. The Rock ’n’ Roll era is beckoning and his lofty theatrics and traditional standards leave him jobless and alcohol soaked. His melancholy is not just for himself but for the past.

Having done a brief bit of research to find out the directors name, I found that prior to his directorial career he was in fact an actor himself. Robinson (who also writes) is probably directly referencing his own life as an actor, showing that the little you know about a filmmaker can shape what you know about their films.

– Oliver Drew

Ollie sketch91


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