Monday, February 25, 2013

Withnail and I

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I is the story of two unemployed actors stay in a cottage for a week only for the holiday to go absolutely wrong testing the friendship of these two men. The film is an exploration into the lives of two very troubled men who drown their sorrows through alcohol and all sorts of vices only to find their holiday to be an unpleasant experience. Starring Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, and Richard E. Griffiths. Withnail and I is a farcical yet witty comedy from Bruce Robinson.

It’s 1969 as two unemployed actors named Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann) go on a trip to the British countryside to take a break from their dilapidated lives only to find the trip to be unpleasant. Dealing with rain, lack of resources, and a willingness to get drunk, things get worse when Withnail’s uncle Monty (Richard E. Griffiths) arrives who tries to seduce I as things eventually go wrong for the two friends. It’s a film that explores the relationship of these two actors who are down on their luck as they’re waiting for a break yet nothing is happening. By taking a holiday, they hope that things will get better but they encounter lots of misadventures and moments that would test their friendship just as things were already problematic to begin with.

Bruce Robinson’s screenplay is based on his own struggles with alcoholism and life as a young struggling actor as the script is told largely from the perspective of I. A young man who lives in this very filthy flat with his friend Withnail as they’re both very talented but unable to find work as actors. There are some voice-over narration from I reflecting on his experiences as he also sees Withnail going through similar struggles except he is more selfish and comes from a very different background where he has a rich uncle who is gay. By going to the country to stay at Monty’s cottage on a week-long holiday, the two expect for things to be OK but it doesn’t. Monty’s unexpected visit would make things worse as Withnail would take advantage of his uncle’s generosity while making him claim that I is also gay.

Once in the country, Withnail and I enter a world that is far removed from their life in Camden as they don’t understand the way things work as they feel like they can come in and do whatever they want. Through some of Robinson’s witty dialogue, the two would often quote lines from plays and such while use their acting skills to bullshit their way through any situation. By the third act, things do go into chaos as it involves not just prospects for one of the men but also an indication of where things are going just as the 60s are about to end.

Robinson’s direction is very lively in the way he captures a period in time that reflects his experience in the late 1960s. Notably as he creates scenes that play up to this world of dreariness that is in sharp contrast to the peace-and-love vibe of the times. Withnail and I don’t look or dress like hippies but rather men who live in their own world filled with booze, pills, and other things. Yet, they’re comfortable with it except they’re low on money and are unable to find work. Robinson uses a lot of medium shots and some close-ups to establish the mood of these characters as well as some wide shots of their environment including some beautiful locations in the British countryside near Shap and Bampton. There, Robinson uses these wide shots and other compositions to establish the sense of alienation of these two men from this world they’re in.

Robinson’s approach to comedy is based on a sense of improvisation to add the sense of something unexpected. Notably in one of the film’s most famous scenes in which Withnail and I go into a tea cafĂ© and demand cakes and wine just as the place is about to close. There are also some very comical moments involving Monty’s attempt to woo I as Monty is clueless to the fact that I isn’t gay and I becomes very uncomfortable. Still, Robinson does maintain that air of theatricality in the performances as it relates to Withnail and I acting their way into a situation as if they’re doing Shakespeare in certain places. Overall, Robinson crafts a very charming and off-the-wall comedy about a holiday gone wrong.

Cinematographer Peter Hannan does nice work with the film‘s low-colored photography from the dreary look of Camden and the countryside in the daytime during the rain to the more low-key lighting schemes in some of the film‘s nighttime interior scenes. Editor Alan Strachan does terrific work with the editing by using rhythmic cuts to play out some of the film‘s humor along with some straightforward cutting in some of its dramatic moments. Production designer Michael Pickwoad and art director Henry Harris do wonderful work with the look of Withnail and I’s dirty flat as well as the cottage they stay in.

Costume designer Andrea Galer does superb work with the costumes to complement the dreary look of the film while giving Monty some finer clothes to represent his flamboyant personality. Sound editor Alan Paley does some excellent work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the scenes in the cottage as well as some scenes in the flat. The film’s music by David Dundas and Rick Wentworth is brilliant as it’s mostly a folk-based score to play out the emotions of the characters while its music soundtrack consists of music from the times that included some jazz as well as cuts by King Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles.

The casting by Mary Selway is amazing as it features some very memorable small roles from Michael Elphick as a poacher from the countryside and Ralph Brown as the philosophical hippie Danny. Richard E. Griffiths is splendidly funny as Withnail’s uncle Monty as he tries to woo I while dealing with some of the chaos that goes on in his cottage. Finally, there’s the duo of Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann in outstanding performances in their respective roles of Withnail and I. Grant brings a very wild performance as a man who loves to drink and takes control of any situation where Grant is always commanding while spouting all sorts of quotes. McGann brings a more reserved performance as the straight-man I as he also displays some great comic reactions to his own situations including those involving Monty. Grant and McGann together make a fantastic comic team as they pillage and act their way into every situation as they are a major highlight to the film.

Withnail and I is an incredible film from Bruce Robinson that features brilliant performances from Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann. It’s a film that is truly filled with absurd and shocking moments while not giving in towards convention as it’s also very funny. It’s also a very captivating film that explores a holiday gone wrong when it involves two unemployed men with nothing to do in the late 60s. In the end, Withnail and I is a remarkable film from Bruce Robinson.

Bruce Robinson Films: (How to Get Ahead in Advertising) - (Jennifer 8) - (The Rum Diary)

© thevoid99 2013


Dave Enkosky said...

I just saw this for the first time last year and absolutely loved it.

thevoid99 said...

That was a fun, fun, fun, film to watch.