Withnail has such an incredible life; ‘Look at him’, you think, ‘He’s having such a good time’. There really is no better advert out there for chain-smoking alcoholism than Withnail. An inadvisable drinking game states that the players must match Withnail drink for drink. It’s impossible. In the course of the film he drinks nine glasses of red wine, six glasses of sherry, one pint of cider, one pint of beer, two shots of gin, thirteen whiskeys and a shot of lighter fluid.
Withnail and the elusive ‘I’ are failed actors in the ‘60s who spend a holiday in Withnail’s flamboyantly gay, Oxford-educated Uncle Monty’s country house. After experiencing incessant rain and unfriendly neighbours (one of whom threatens Withnail with a dead fish) they begin to regret the decision. What happens then is a series of drunken and debauched episodes laden with some truly great quotes. Stumbling into a cafe completely smashed, Withnail states: “We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here, and we want them now”. After Monty shows up in the middle of the night having been stuck in a gale for “aeons”, he begins to take a fancying to ‘I’ who remarks that he ‘probably keeps his thoughts in an old poetry book spattered with the butter drips from crumpets’.
It’s a wonderfully black comedy that doesn’t deal with the darker side of the ‘60s, but rather deals with the darker side of the good side of the ‘60s. Drugs, cigarettes and booze are massively glamorised, but the film reminds you that they were being done in the context of grey skies, industry and squalor; not rainbows and festivals of love. I dare you to watch it and not at least feel the urge to roll up and have a little drink, maybe just a few ales.
Steve Jones, Film Editor
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