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November 12, 2010

Withnail and I - Classic Film Pick

Withnail-and-i Perhaps Britain's most beloved cult film, Bruce Robinson's 1986 semi-autobiographical dark comedy is an obsessively observed character study. The movie revels in its leading character's alcohol-fueled rants of outlandish poetic narcissism. Out-of-work London actors Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the story's narrator Marwood (Paul McGann) make the mistake of leaving their squalid Camden Town flat to "go on holiday by mistake" at a rustic cottage in the Lake District owned by Withnail's wealthy Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). The broken and bare cottage proves as cold as the area's locals who intimidate Withnail and Marwood at every opportunity. Uncle Monty's unexpected arrival brings food, wine, heat, and a certain erotic agenda aimed at Marwood. The regal Uncle Monty is an affected aesthete who believes Marwood to be gay per Withnail's disinformation. Intent on capitalizing on the situation even it if means committing "burglary," Monty's romantic overtures toward Marwood drive one of the film's energetic sequences of over-the-top farce.

Richard E. Grant's fantastic portrayal of Withnail (circa 1969) identifies the fiendish character as on par with Hunter S. Thompson for being ahead of the counter-culture curve. Withnail proved a breakout role for Grant's feature debut. Grant went on to give a similarly inspired performance three years later under Bruce Robinson's direction in "How to Get Ahead In Advertising."

"Withnail and I" is a weird kind of time capsule. Music by Jimi Hendrix informs the film's late '60s atmosphere of intellectual and economic desperation. Withnail and Marwood represent British underclass archetypes whose irreverence is their greatest asset and their most damning flaw. "London is a country coming down from its trip. We are 91 days from the end of this decade and there's going to be a lot of refugees." Withnail and Marwood are pre-disastered.


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