The Arena of the Unwell

"I am a trained actor reduced to the status of a bum!"

"I am a trained actor reduced to the status of a bum!"

This is only tangentially Beatle-related, but last night marked my n-teenth viewing of Withnail and I, one of the great cult films of all time. The Beatles connections are that:

  • George Harrison was the executive producer of the movie, which was financed by his company, Handmade Films.
  • “Richard Starkey, M.B.E.” is credited as “Special Production Consultant.”
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is on the soundtrack when the main characters return home to find the drug dealer Danny occupying their flat and Presuming Ed in the bathtub.

I’m proud to say that I saw Withnail in the theater back in 86 with my friend Tom. I think I understood about a quarter of it the first time around, but that was enough to let me know that something special was going on. Richard E. Grant’s performance as Withnail — vain, flamboyant, self-absorbed, and utterly charming, the sort of man who stands in his living room shouting “I demand to have some booze” as if that should be enough to make it so — is the stuff of legend. But he is nearly upstaged by Ralph Brown as Danny, the philosophical drug dealer with sunken eyes, an unidentifiable accent, and a babydoll possessed of “voodoo qualities.” The “I” character played by Paul McGann, a very thinly disguised version of writer/director Bruce Robinson, mainly serves as comic foil, but does get some good lines:

Withnail: I dislike relatives in general and in particular mine.

I: Why?

Withnail: I’ve told you why. We’re incompatible. They don’t like me being on stage.

I: Then they must be delighted with your career.

Well, I don’t want to get into reciting favorite quotes from this movie, because we’ll be here all day. After languishing for years in a poorly mastered, inexplicably incomplete VHS version, Withnail and I is now available on a lovely Criterion Collection DVD. If you haven’t seen it lately, why not have a viewing? And if perchance you’ve never seen it, well, you are living in a world of dangerous ignorance, and I suggest you do something about it.

3 Responses to “The Arena of the Unwell”

  1. cecil vortex Says:

    was just chatting with an LDC author about Withnail. Would love to see it again soonish if the mood strikes…. -Cecil

  2. ken Says:

    Bill and I watched this while I was recovering following my accident. Some of the more interesting character studies I’ve seen on film. But I’m still trying to figure out where they got the money for all those pints and booze and fags.

  3. The Philter » Blog Archive » R.I.P. Richard Griffiths, a/k/a Montague J. Withnail Says:

    […] you to this previously posted podcast, which leads off with Griffiths’ legendary soliloquy from Withnail and I concerning “breakfasts that set in,” “the last island of beauty in the world,” and of […]

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