As far as ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedies go, ‘Withnail & I’ is probably one of the oddest but at the same time quintessentially British.
It’s just not a movie you can imagine a Hollywood studio either being interested in or doing justice if it was, but at the same time it has gone on to become a cult classic and usually scores highly on any vote for favourite comedies.
‘Withnail’ must also hold the record for the highest number of quotable one-liners of any film; whenever two or three fans are gathered together, apparently disjointed conversations of single lines of dialogue can usually be overheard as a litany bonding them together.
Its premise is pretty straightforward - two struggling actors, Withnail (Richard E Grant) and ‘I’ (Paul McGann - the character’s never formally named) sharing a run-down flat in Camden Town in 1969 find themselves in a rut and decide to get away from it all by escaping to the country.
To do so they scam Withnail’s flamboyant Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) into lending them his cottage in Cumbria and head north to an expected rural idyll akin to the novels of H.E. Bates. Instead they find a ramshackle house, lots of rain, they have little food or supplies and encounter mildly hostile locals - in particular a threatening poacher, Jake (Michael Elphick), whom Withnail offends.
The chronically alcoholic Withnail goes through the entire film offending almost everyone he meets, from which much of the verbal comedy arises - along with his constant railing against life and circumstances. The fact these are usually brought on by his overbearing arrogance and habitual lying never seems to register.
Monty’s arrival, however, brings with it a civilising influence to an otherwise haphazard holiday - but at a cost.
Definitely one to watch with friends, but be warned - the dialogue can be a little ripe, yet hilarious at the same time.