Withnail & I is the tale of a pair of out of work actors in the Camden of 1969 who decide to get away from it all for a weekend in a country cottage.
And that’s about it; plot heavy this film is not. It’s all about the character of Withnail, played to perfection by Richard E. Grant; in fact Grant was a teetotaller when he made this film, but Bruce Robinson insisted that the leading actors be paralytic during filming just to make it more authentic. The pair are like a foul-mouthed, drunken version of Laurel & Hardy as they stagger through the ordinary world in much the same way as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas; except that this film is very, very British. This film is all about the dialogue, which is hilarious and contains some of the most amusing profanity you’ll ever hear. It is also – like Terry Gilliam’s film – making a comment about the times in which they lived; the end of the sixties. The difference is that with Fear & Loathing, Hunter S. Thompson was bemoaning the loss of power and optimism of the American youth movement, while Withnail is shown as endearing but childish and cowardly, constantly avoiding responsibility and life as a whole through a cocktail of drink and drugs. He is inevitably left behind at the conclusion – like the decade itself – as “I” gets a haircut and a job and moves on with his life. Some may think that the “screaming homosexual” uncle Monty is a bit of a caricature and figure of fun, but he is in fact the most sensitive and sympathetic character in the film.
It may not translate well to foreign audiences, but Withnail & I will forever be a firm favourite amongst the British post hippy generation and students alike.