How has this cult hit held up?
This goodbye to an era is still far from having its own farewell. We’re now 30 years on and the cult legacy of Withnail and I remains as strong ever. And why wouldn’t it? It’s a hilarious, yet bittersweet comedy, and I can’t envisage it ever being anything less than a classic. Its powerful performances, cutting writing, and exquisite directing make it a film worthy of its reputation and one destined to retain its popularity.
This sharply written masterpiece follows our two drunken, tediously intellectual protagonists (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann), who spend their time complaining about their lack of opportunities and privilege despite having wealthy relatives, a nice – though dingey through their neglect – flat, and the brains to get themselves on the job ladder. The majority of the humour comes from their pathetic attitudes. They are a product of an era. Constantly off their faces on whatever form of high or alcohol they can find, never giving a thought to a sensible life, with their artistic professions shunning financial stability. They are the offspring of the previous, more loose decades.
When they go for an ill-judged holiday to the countryside, their lives are shown to be in flux. The countryside shows a way of life that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. As the years roll by tradition stays. The tough and untameable backdrop of the countryside shows something formidable, unlike the forever shifting landscape of city life. As trends come and go agricultural life stands firm, as shown by the conservative older generation who inhabit the area. Monty (Richard Griffiths) represents the flux even in the artistic world. He is a flamboyantly gay, posh, eccentric ex-actor, who is to be replaced by our more contemplative and solemn protagonists.
As well as being a rather profound reflection on our shifting culture Withnail and I is also one of the best British comedies ever made. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann gave career-defining performances as our leads, giving brilliantly over the top performances. They turn every situation into a dramatic event, whether this is going to a village cafe or looking for the farmer. The writing is some of the most pinpoint comedic writing you’ll ever see. Some of my personal favourite lines are:
- ‘We’ve gone on holiday by mistake’
- ‘Stop saying that Withnail, of course he’s the fucking farmer!’
- ‘If I medicined you, you’d think a brain tumour was a birthday present’
- ‘I mean to have you, even if it must be burglary!’
The list of memorable moments is near inexhaustible, with every line seemingly loaded with some form of humour. Where some comedies lose their cutting edge and relevance with age, Withnail and I, like all the best comedies, never looks like losing its bite.
No matter how many decades roll by this one remains as funny as it was upon release. With the drugged up character of Danny inspiring Peep Show‘s Super Hans, it doesn’t look like loosening its influence on modern culture and is always relevant in a world where our culture is forever on the move. Withnail and I has aged as well as the wine that our loveable protagonists constantly drink.