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Withnail and I (1987)

  Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Written by: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E Grant, Richard Griffiths, Paul McGann
Links: Withnail and I on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 6.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 129th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"So very British" - a review by mino

If you had to give a word to describe British comedy, insofar as such things can be generalised, you'd probably say ‘dry’ (or maybe ‘subtle’). Compared to other countries, the British have a reputation for relying on wit, rather than physical humour. Of course, the British are good at physical humour as well, but their trademark is subtle, character-driven, self-deprecating wit.

Well, Withnail and I does nothing to change that opinion — in fact, it reinforces it a great deal. In parts, it's so dry, so subtle, that it takes some time before you realise that something funny has just been said.

But then, just when you think you've got it sorted, along comes a piece of subtle-as-a-sledgehammer physical comedy that reminds you more of Bottom than it does of The Importance of Being Earnest. It's an odd mix, but one that works surprisingly well. For the most part, though, it's the less obvious humour that holds sway here.

In fact, the subtlety prevalent throughout Withnail and I extends a long way beyond the jokes, going so far as to include the plot. I say ‘subtle’ because, well, there isn't really a plot. Two chronically unemployed actors drink a lot, yell at each other, bounce off the walls a bit, go on a holiday to the countryside, and come home. That's about it really.

Withnail and I is a very minimalist production. There are virtually no sets of note to speak of, and not much happens. The success of a movie like this hinges on the script and, even more importantly in this case, the performances. Fortunately, neither of these things really disappoint.

The characters we meet in Withnail (and really, there are only three of any importance) are a delightfully off-the-wall bunch. Withnail himself is a manic, desperate, drug- and alcohol-crazed character, almost impossible to keep up with, played to absolute perfection by Richard E Grant. ‘I’, Withnail's flatmate (Paul McGann), is a more subdued soul, but equally drug-crazed: his overindulgence, though, takes the form of an overriding paranoia, which comes in flashes but leaves him basically non-functioning. Monty (Richard Griffiths) is Withnail's madly eccentric uncle (“I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is, you'll agree, a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot.”), who loans the actors his country house for the weekend, but then joins the party himself.

Despite the fact that basically all three characters are fairly reprehensible folk, they're surprisingly likeable, due largely to the great performances from the three actors, especially Grant, and the fantastic lines they're given. Some of physical comedy (or the more obvious, less subtle) verbal comedy is a little bit lacking, but then some of it is very good too. At times, it's a little too dry, and could benefit from a little lightening up. On the whole, though, the balance is good, making Withnail and I almost a kind of modern-day Waiting for Godot.

Not the greatest movie I've ever seen, but one I think will grow on me over time.

mino gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 22 Jan 2004

"I think I need a few more watches..." - a review by pearly

Withnail (Richard E Grant) and I (Paul McGann) are unemployed actors who aren't particularly worried about being unemployed. It's the late Sixties and, having not much to do, they decide to take a trip to the countryside to stay at Withnail's uncle Monty's (Richard Griffiths) house there. Thinking it will be just what they need to boost their excitement levels, they arrive, only to find a cold, dark cottage where they have no food, nothing to amuse themselves, and it begins raining.

A Withnail and I DVD was, I have to admit, the perfect less than $10 Kris Kringle present for me. For one thing, it was something that I hadn't seen before that was praised by others I spoke to who had seen it, which would have been hard to come by, especially for under $10. As for why it took me nearly a year to watch it after having received it, I have no excuses. I just never got around to it.

But now, it's watched. Withnail and I is a bit difficult to classify. It's a comedy, and it's British, but it's more in the style of an upper-class film, something like Gosford Park (2001), than it is like Black Adder or something like that: the humour is a lot more subtle, and less jokey. However, it differs from both of these in that it is a lot grittier, there isn't an upper-class setting for most of the film, it's all very dark and dirty.

Having only watched it the once thus far, I felt as though I was struggling through it a little. The comedy is, as I said, quite subtle, and it seems to me that repeated viewings would probably do it more justice, but for the moment, I'd have to say that there was a fair portion of it that I just didn't "get". However, I will say that it's something that's likely to improve with repeated viewings, so it's good that I own it and can now aim to watch it a couple of times over the next few years to see what I think of it then.

Grant is clearly enjoying the role, and is a stand-out, and I also greatly enjoyed Griffith's character Monty. One of the lesser parts is Danny, played by Ralph Brown. This character reminded me so much of the character of Warlock from The Young Ones that I had to go and check whether or not they are played by the same actor (they're not - Warlock was played by Paul Bradley).

If you are a fan of British comedy, then give Withnail and I a go, and make up your own mind.

pearly gives this movie 5 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 9 Jan 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 6.00
Lowest rating: 5 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 7 (by mino)
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