8 April 2013

Withnail and I

Withnail and I 1987
  • Director: Bruce Robinson
  • Based on book: No, but sort of autobiographical.
  • Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown, Michael Elphick
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Richard E. Grant  Dracula, Twelfth Night (1996), Wah-Wah, Me Myself and Kubrick, Gosford Park, Keep the Aspidistras Flying, Cold Lazarus
    • Paul McGann  Our Mutual Friend, Aliens 3
    • Richard Griffiths – Harry Potter, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sleepy Hollow, Gandhi, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Comedy of Errors. Sadly, he died just last week.
    • Ralph Brown – Alien 3, The Boat that Rocked, Amistad, Cold Lazarus, The Crying Game, Chopin Mon Amour, The Merry Wives of Windsor
    • Michael Elphick – David Copperfield, Elephant Man, Quadrophenia, O Lucky Man
  • Why bought: its connection to Hamlet and remembered it as odd but good.
  • Seen: 10 or fifteen years ago and now: January 12, 2013

“Odd but good”? Well, yes.  “Hamlet”? Well, yes.
This is a film about two young men and some other men.  The first thing I noticed as it started is that there were no women in the cast. Well, OK…
The two men are unemployed actors.  Withnail is a lying rather nasty ego-tripper (this is the 60’s). “I” is filled with neurotic anxiety but otherwise a rather likeable chap.
They mooch around complaining about life then talk Withnail’s uncle Monty into letting them spend a weekend in his country house, which turns out not to be a picturesque cottage or manor house but an old dilapidated farmhouse in rather beautiful but rainy muddy surroundings in the middle of the English countryside nowhere.
Uncle Monty (played by Harry Potter’s mean Uncle Vernon) shows up unexpectedly.  Up to this point and for awhile more there is quite a lot of bizarre humor with these two idiotic city slickers trying to survive farm life but when Uncle Monty started pursuing “I” and finally declares himself to be mad with love and sexual desire for him, it turns tragic and rather unpleasant.  Withnail has evidently told a lot of lies about “I” in order to get to use the cottage.  Poor Uncle Monty, who departs humiliated, deeply hurt but ever gracious.  “I” is furious, Withnail is unrepentant.
A philosophical, amoral, soft-spoken sleazy drug dealer shows up now and then and we had to wait until the very end of the film for the Hamlet quote, spoken by the lonely and abandoned Withnail: “I have of late, and wherefore I know not lost all my mirth.”
A fitting quote, movingly executed in such a way that suddenly we feel sympathy for the dreadful Withnail.
Odd? Very. But extremely well acted.  Richard E. Grant is always good and excels as Withnail.  And his final lines – the Hamlet quote – in fact raise the whole film to something gripping.
I still don’t know how much I like the film but it is fascinating.

3 ½ * of 5.

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