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United Kingdom 1986
Directed by
Bruce Robinson
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Withnail And I

From the opening mood-settting scene in which we watch Paul McGann (the “I” of the title, aka Marwood, and writer/director Robinson’s alter ego) quietly fretting to the evocative strains of King Curtis’s version of 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' to the closing scene with Richard E. Grant walking away from the camera alone in the rain while quoting Shakespeare's famous "What a piece of work is Man" line¸ Withnail And I is an almost perfectly-judged tragi-comedy that received little attention when it was released but since, thanks to home video players, has justly attained cult status.

Originally written as a novel by Robinson, the character of Withnail was based on a friend, Vivian Mackerall, from their days as aspiring actors in the 1960s. More character than narrative driven, the story largely concerns the lads' escape from London to Withnail's uncle's farmhouse for a weekend getaway.

Grant, in only his second film appearance, is outstanding as Withnail, but Paul McGann and Ralph Brown as Danny, the drug-dealing master of "The Camberwell Carrot", are equally good in their respective roles. Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty is priceless . As a depiction of the wasted world of the late '60s the film has never been bettered and probably never will be with excellent use being made of Jimi Hendrix's music.

FYI: In the novel, after farewelling Marwood, Withnail returns to their flat and commits suicide. Although he has never had as much success as a director since, Robinson was nominated for an Oscar for his script for The Killing Fields (1984). Ralph Brown turned up in Wayne's World 2 playing the same character but this time called Del Preston.




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