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File:WithnailI 9030.jpg


Withnail: [after drinking an ounce of lighter fluid] Have we got any more?

"I": [shakes his head]

Withnail: Liar. What's in your toolbox?

"I": No, we have nothing. Sit down.

Withnail: Liar! You've got anti-freeze!

"I": Bloody fool! You should never mix your drinks!
The titular characters take their first drink and pretty much set the tone for the whole movie.

Made in 1987, Withnail and I is a semi-autobiographical classic black comedy set in the end weeks of 1969. Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, who lived it, and starring Richard E. Grant as Withnail, a quasi-homosexual, messed-up, flamboyant alcoholic, and Paul McGann as Marwood (or I, as he's never named in the actual film), his slightly more sane and sensible friend. Both are seriously unemployed actors (and in Withnail's case, almost entirely unemployable) living in squalor, who decide to get away from it all with a holiday in the countryside by way of borrowing a cottage belonging to Withnail's equally flamboyant Uncle Monty.

Trouble is, everything goes wrong; they're totally incapable of looking after themselves rendering the cottage a cold, dark, borderline inhospitable shack (though once the owner arrives he seems able to make it quite homely in a few short hours...). They can't find any food, it won't stop raining, the locals are surly and unwelcoming, a local poacher takes exception to Withnail and promises violent retribution, and as if that wasn't enough, Uncle Monty makes a surprise appearance, with amorous intentions towards Marwood....

The film is as famous for its obnoxious fanbase (besides an evergreen popularity among university students, often people who see it will quote it whole) and Robinson's mistreatment from Handmade Films as it is for its hilarious lines and one of the saddest endings in a comedy film. And you could also say it's one of the few films where the slashers aren't just wishfully thinking, as the 'love' between the two leads has been picked up by many.

Tropes used in Withnail and I include:


 Marwood "You never discuss your family, do you?"

Withnail "I told you, we're incompatible. They don't like me being on stage."

Marwood "Then they must be delighted with your career..."

Withnail: Why do you say that?

Marwood: You so rarely are.

  • Department of Redundancy Department: A man drives up to the cottage in a tractor with the logs Marwood asked for for firewood. Withnail asks him if he's the farmer... twice.

  Marwood: "Stop saying that, Withnail! Of course he's the fucking farmer!"

 Withnail "I don't know what my fr... acquaintance did to upset you but I can assure you it's nothing to do with me. I suggest you both go outside and discuss it sensibly in the street..."

    • Not to mention Withnail causing Marwood's encounter with a randy bull, then jumping over the wall to let him deal with it.
  • Downer Ending: Only the wolves know what a good actor Withnail can really be. At our last look of him, he seems in complete and utter despair.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Right before the telegram comes, signifying that their friendship is coming to an end.
  • Enforced Method Acting: The first drink consumed on screen is supposed to be lighter fluid. Vinegar was used in the filming (although it was water in the rehearsals), and the reaction of Richard E. Grant (who's actually teetotal in Real Life) was genuine.
    • Further to the Enforced Method Acting, the director insisted on getting Richard E. Grant utterly plastered with him before shooting started. Grant, who's teetotal due to not breaking alcohol down properly, got utterly plastered and, as Robinson put it, finally knew what it was like to be that drunk.
  • Erudite Stoner: Danny the drug dealer.

 Danny: "Politics, man. If you're hanging onto a rising balloon, you're presented with a difficult decision - let go before it's too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?"

    • Arguably subverted, though, in that his "wisdom" is actually pretty vapid compared to the main characters' much more down-to-earth problems, and it's even indicated that his drugs are at least somewhat to blame for their career problems.
  • Eye Take: "Congratulations..." We see the precise moment when Withnail and Marwood's friendship ends for good.
  • Fan Disservice: Kind of hard to enjoy the all-but-naked hot twentysomething when he's trying to avoid being raped by a man approximately twice his size.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Marwood's writings frequently take on a philosophical bent.

 "Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day. And for once I'm inclined to believe that Withnail is right. We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell."

  • Fish Out of Water: Both of them are totally at sea in the countryside.
  • Friendship Moment: Doubly subverted when they're going back home. Marwood is panicking and sleep-deprived while driving and Withnail just cackles. But then he wakes up in the backseat disorientated to find Withnail has taken over and is "making time".
  • Giftedly Bad: Withnail believes he's a great actor [1] and genuinely has no idea why he has been out of work for so long:

  "Bastards! You'll all suffer! I'll show the lot of you! I'm gonna be a STAAAAAAAAAAARRRRR!"

    • By contrast Marwood has a much higher talent-to-ego ratio. While Withnail indulges in melodramatic bragging, Marwood quietly auditions for a small part in a play... and gets offered the lead.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners As McGann said, it's like a 'marriage going wrong'.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: "A coward you are, Withnail. An expert on bulls you are not."
  • Large Ham: Richard E. Grant isn't one but his character, Withnail, certainly is. All the world is a stage for him, and while we never see him on an actual stage we get to see him overact in his everyday life:

 "I'm a trained actor REDUCED to the status of a bum!"

  • Last-Note Nightmare: Withnail's Theme is bouncy and dramatic in a very sad way, but it ends on a thumping flat note. Considering who it's for, it's very fitting.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Happens to Marwood constantly: "Perfumed ponce!", "So you're a thesbian too?", "You want workin' on, boy..."
  • Mood Whiplash: A film that's almost unrelentingly hilarious detailing two self-destructive people in the death spiral of their friendship is bound to be full of moments like this.
  • Mr. Fanservice: If you're not a hard-drinking British university student, it's quite likely you watched it primarily for Marwood's shirtless scenes, even when he's nearly getting raped.
    • And this, as stated below, was the film that turned Richard E. Grant into a sex symbol. Yes, really.
  • No Name Given: Credited as "...& I", Marwood is named only in the screenplay. We shall never know Withnail's first name, on the other hand, leaving one to think it's something poncey like 'Sheridan'.
    • There's a belief among fans that Marwood's first name is "Peter", thanks to a misheard line of dialogue in the movie that is not supported by the script.
  • Oop North: Much of the film takes place in the Lake District, a mountainous region near the Scottish border on the west cost of Britain. The locals appear to be slightly dismissive of "London types" from down south.

  Withnail: "Listen, we're bona fide! We're not from London. Could we have some fuel and wood?"

  "I mean to have you, even if it must be burglary!"

  • Reality Subtext: Something that makes the last twenty minutes even sadder. At the time, Paul McGann was an established actor and so he knew that he was still having a career after this movie. This was Richard E. Grant's first movie, however, so he had no idea if this was going to his one and only film or not and so he knew how upset and jealous Withnail was feeling. But as we all know, Grant's fears were unfounded and this film even managed to make him a sex symbol for a while.
    • Robinson based Withnail on his Real Life friend and actor, Vivian MacKerrell who actually did drink lighter fluid once. Robinson has attributed his friend's early death from throat cancer to this incident.
  • Screwed by the Network: Bruce Robinson's mistreatment by Handmade Films.
  • Shirtless Scene
  • Sorry, Ociffer...: The "GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN!" scene.
  • Stoner Flick
  • Take That: As mentioned below, Bruce Robinson alleges Franco Zeffirelli pursued him at one time. During an early scene in the film, Withnail reads a newspaper headline of "Boy Lands Plum Role For Top Italian Director," and goes on to suggest the reason the actor has the part is the director's amorous interest in him.
  • Throw It In: Withnail's grimace complete with a pork pie trying to escape from his mouth was completely accidental.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Marwood until the end where he has to look proper and Withnail as soon as they hit the countryside.
  • Write Who You Know: The film is based on Robinson's own life in London. Withnail is based on his friend Vivian MacKerrell, who later died of throat cancer.
    • Robinson maintains he received unwanted advances from Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli whilst playing Benvolio as a young actor. Uncle Monty is loosely based on this experience.
  • You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses:

 Withnail "I have a heart condition. I have a h-h-heart condition. If you hit me, it's murder."

Irishman "I'll murder the pair of yous!"

Withnail "My wife is having a baby!"

Notes

  1. and he is... but only we and the wolves know that
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