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November 12, 2010


Colesmithey.comPerhaps Britain's most beloved cult film, Bruce Robinson's 1986 semi-autobiographical dark comedy is an obsessively observed character study set during the cataclysmic end of the '60s.

The episodic story revels in Withnail's alcohol-fueled rants of outlandish poetic narcissism and egotistical posturing to mask his lack of talent.

Out-of-work London actors Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the story's narrator "I" (a.k.a. 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, and openly homosexual, Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths).

Uncle Monty's cottage proves as cold as the area's locals who intimidate Withnail and Marwood at every opportunity. Monty's unexpected late night arrival brings cultured conversation, food, wine, heat, and an erotic agenda aimed at Marwood, whose budding sexuality seems to be veering in that direction.


Richard Griffiths regal demeanor is that of an affected aesthete who believes Marwood to be gay per Withnail's disinformation. Intent on capitalizing on the intimate opportunity even it if means committing "burglary," Monty's romantic overtures toward Marwood drive one of the film's most energetic sequences of over-the-top farce.

Richard E. Grant's inspired portrayal of Withnail (circa 1969) identifies the fiendish character as on par with Hunter S. Thompson for being ahead of the counter-culture curve and equally in need of drugs and alcohol. Dig the Ralph Steadman poster art for this movie. The Hunter Thompson connection is strong. 

Withnail proved a breakout role for Grant's feature film debut. Grant went on to give a similarly inspired performance three years later under Bruce Robinson's direction in another cult gem, "How to Get Ahead In Advertising."

"Withnail and I" is a weird 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, never mind that they are unrequited gay lovers at heart.

"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, and hopelessly in love.


Rated R. 107 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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