Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Summer of British Film: Withnail and I- Review by Emma J Lennox

The BBC and the UK Film Council are celebrating British cinema by screening classics on the big screen every Tuesday until Sept 11th in cinemas all over the UK. Each film has been digitally remastered in Hi-Def and Montage writers will be appraising these classics!

Director: Bruce Robinson

Screenwriter: Bruce Robinson

Runtime: 107min

Certificate: 15
Release date: Screening Tuesday 11 September

What more can be said about possibly the best British comedy ever made, except to add that it is more than just a comedy. Of course there are beautifully crafted lines which have pervaded smokey student bedsits since its 1987 release, “we've gone on holiday by mistake” or “my thumbs have gone weird!” but there is an edge of truth to the script, based on the life of writer/director Bruce Robinson, which is the reason it is still sharp two decades later. Withnail and I depicts a short chapter in the lives of two foppish, dole bound actors; Richard E Grant who is the slippery, bleary eyed Withnail and Paul McGann who tosses his curly locks as the more sensitive and unnamed 'I'.

It is 1969, an iconic year for the disillusioned and desperate; Hunter S Thompson was punching Gonzo into journalism and Jimi Hendrix was tearing apart the American national anthem. Robinson depicts Britain as politically and culturally stagnant, even the colours seem drained of life as if filtered through the yellows and browns of Withnail's murky, Camden dishwater. There is brutish indignation at the world around Withnail and I and the two pick apart the wrongs of society in frustration and despair. Like in Thompson's writing, their anger comes out in barely restrained hysteria and celebratory drink/drug misuse.

The plot also features episodes of farce, at times expanding on traditional 'Englishman abroad' territory but with the shambolic holiday in Penrith providing 'foreign' concepts of chicken killing and poaching to the actors. But both Withnail and I are isolated whether they are in a country cottage or at home in their London slum of a flat, falling as they do into the niche of over educated and unemployed. The friendship at its heart is both amusing and affectionate despite the jealousy, selfishness, rudeness and bickering, and it is the strength of this relationship which really makes this a classic. Well observed and unashamedly theatrical, Withnail and I, has a special place in the British consciousness, representative as the characters are of two very British traits; self deprecation and an absolute belief that we are the best.

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