Two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail -- spend their days drifting between their squalid flat, the unemployment office and the pub. When they take a holiday "by mistake" at the country house of Withnail's flamboyantly gay uncle, Monty, they encounter the unpleasant side of the English countryside: tedium, terrifying locals and torrential rain.
Bought this on DVD for a £2 on a second-hand market stall a couple of years ago, then upgraded it to blu-ray a few months ago when I saw it on sale in HMV for a bargaintastic three quid. Yet I'd never got around to actually watching it. I'd bought it (twice) off the back of it being this enormous cult classic weighed down with critical praise (Wiki tells me that the readers of Total Film magazine voted it the third greatest comedy film of all time in 2000 and the 13th greatest British film of all time in 2004, it was ranked 38th greatest film of all time by Channel 4 in 2001 in their 100 Greatest Films poll, an Observer poll of 60 eminent British filmmakers and critics voted it 2nd best British film of the last 25 years in 2009, it ranked 118 in Empire magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Films of All Time in 2008). Anyways: This film has so far mugged me for a fiver. 2/10, and I'm being generous. What a pile of rubbish! "Third greatest comedy"?!? I would never EVER in a thousand years pegged it as a "comedy", under any measurable criteria. It wasn't just trying-yet-failing to be funny, I wasn't even aware it was trying to be funny. Literally, the ONLY funny thing about the movie was how anyone on Earth could have thought this was a good film. Basically: It's the late sixties, and two posh, "luvvy" actors (the titular "Withnail" and "I", played capably enough by two posh, "luvvy" actors: Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, respectively), living in absolute filth like a couple of retards - I mean, they don't seem to have any understanding of how to operate, say, the kitchen sink - decide that they need to go for a break in the countryside, at a cottage owned by Withnail's gay uncle. They go, it pisses down ceaselessy, they fail to get on with the natives simply because they're such unlikeable morons, then the gay uncle shows up and spends the rest of the movie creepily and ceaselessly trying to gay off with Paul McGann's unnamed "I" character. They go home, they tolerate a drug-dealer and his friend who have broken into and taken up residence in their house, "I" gets an acting job offer and takes off. The end. Utter rubbish. In fact, I'm making it sound better than it is. Reading it back, it sounds vaguely like an admittedly particularly poor episode of Bottom played dramatically rather than for laughs, and although there are shades of the Rick/Rich character that Rik Mayall has played his entire career in Richard E. Grant's performance, Withnail & I is NOT even as good as a poor Bottom episode. And I didn't like Bottom either, especially.
A beautiful, dreary and funny film. At times subtle and others direct. Deeply contemplative with majestic scenery and an atmosphere of grey. Sardonic humour with believable, excellently acted characters and scenarios. It's the greatest film about friendship and only gets better with each viewing. The direction is purely cinematic and shows rather than tells. A Masterpiece.