Golden Oldie: Withnail & I (1987)

Written by Film

I first watched this film when I was far too young. My older brother, now filmmaker, had an impeccable taste in film from day dot. He would put on these classic masterpieces and re-watch them until their witty quotes and quips were engrained into his mind like all the songs in ‘Hercules’ were into mine. Needless to say, living with him meant a lot of the films I watched as a child went miles over my head.

I didn’t fully understand Withnail & I when I first watched it. I don’t think I even noticed the swearing, the poverty, the ‘of its time’ but now incredibly questionable homophobia of Marwood (Paul McGann) towards Monty (Richard Griffiths). But I did get that it was funny. The ludicrous eccentricity of Richard E Grant’s character (Withnail) comes through at any age, with a character that managed to capture my attention aged 10 for the film’s full 107 minutes.

It’s something special to feel a film has grown up with you

It was only last year that I picked the film up again and re-watched it as a now grown (-ish) person. All the subtle complicated politics of Marwood and Withnail’s relationship now made sense. As did the irony in a character with such expensive taste but such little money, which rang all too true with my perceptions of bougie Newcastle students (myself included).

It’s something special to feel a film has grown up with you, developing a more complicated plot and meaning as you grow to understand such narratives. When I watch the film now, I feel some strange connection between my life and theirs. As though I am living out a diluted, slightly more wholesome version of Withal and I. I am an aspiring artist of sorts who drinks too much (although I have never resorted to lighter fluid) and can’t bring myself to believe in my ability to succeed in my current society.

I feel similarly on the brink of the next stretch of my life, just as both characters are. And at the end of this 3rd year of uni, I too shall pack my bags, get a sensible haircut, trade my dungarees for a proper shirt and head out into the “real world”. Either that, or you’ll catch me in Heaton Park reciting Hamlet in the rain, sipping my Champaign. Chin chin, to either of those outcomes.

Last modified: 31st January 2019

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