This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY ROMEY NORTON NOVEMBER 2, 2023
"What is it missing? Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Back in 1987, a cult classic film was born in the form of two out of work actors taking a holiday in the north of England. Bruce Robinson truly made a stand-out black comedy with this fantastic piece of indie cinema. Of course, I don’t think he would have suspected it would have gained the cult following and notoriety it has over the years, but I can imagine he’s proud. Especially seen as though the film is based on his friendship with Vivian MacKerrell, a usually unemployed actor and full-time alcoholic. They shared a flat and misery in London, where Robinson recalls being down to one light bulb and taking it with him from room to room. Fork It!
Withnail and I is a favourite of mine, that I quote too frequently. Unfortunately, not many people pick up on the fact I am quoting the film - they must think I am completely mental.
This film see’s two out-of-job actors travel to the English countryside to spend a weekend with their uncle. As soon as they get up there, they end up getting into enough trouble to put them off the idea of visiting the area again. Starring the effortless Richard, E. Grant, the flawless Paul McGann, the missed Richard Griffiths, and we can’t not mention the fabulous work from Ralph Brown as the dangerous hippie.
Withnail and I is one of the best examples of British black comedy to ever hit the screens. The grim behind the scenes of two out of work actors, the bleakness of British holidays, the misery and poverty our picture perfect country is made of, and inevitable drug and alcoholism the British people refuse to acknowledge is a real epidemic. It is effortless in its execution. This is probably why it’s still so relatable coming up to 30 years late - nothing much has changed.
In the writing there are some excellent one-liners, edging on the outlandish and ridiculous, but still believable - made through the actors excellent portrayals of their characters. An example being when Withnail starts looking for antifreeze, Marwood cries out: "Don't mix your drinks!"
Richard E. Grant is famous for not drinking alcohol in real life, and yet is able to play an alcoholic so well you’d think he was lathered every day on set. There is a scene of him shooting fish in a river in his boxers, and you’d have to be either drunk or completely mad to do this. I can’t imagine how cold he must have been filming this.
Richard Griffith is a wonderful comic relief to their misery, being outlandish, posh, rich, and playful. Uncle Monty as a character is someone you’d all want to meet but not stay with too long.
The ending of this film is somewhat perfect for me. There is no up-lifting happy ending, no closure, no real conclusion, but a beautifully executed monologue and a walk in the rain. This scene reflects the quality in the film: Withnail, Marwood and Monty are well educated, steeped in literature and drama, and confident, and yet they are living in poverty, out of work, and plagued by debauchery.
Withnail and I is a 5 star film for me, what is it missing? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unintentionally it’s teaching its audience so much about life, friendship, and the British, and gives a lesson in acting and writing.
Fans of the film might be excited to know that a stage play version is in the works and will be on the West End for a limited run in 2024. I’m intrigued as to how they’ll achieve certain scenes, and it’ll take some serious acting and directing skills to gain the same comedic success as the film. Scrubbers!