A Film Review of Withnail and I -Toby Smith, Year 11

Title – Withnail & I

Age Certificate – 15

Release Date – 1987

Genre – Dark Comedy


Unless you really know British cinema, this title will mean absolutely nothing to you. You may be thinking “Who are Withnail & I?”. If you’re thinking like that, don’t worry. I had the exact same thoughts before I watched this movie; however, you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t go and check this film out; it is truly one of the funniest movies ever made.

Withnail & I tells the story of Withnail and ‘I’, who are two young, unemployed (and unemployable) actors living in London in 1969. Withnail, played by Richard E Grant,  is an alcoholic with a reckless attitude, while ‘I’, played by Paul McGann, wants to know what the point of everything. Having them together in scenes is hilarious, as Withnail is always doing things without thinking of the consequences, while the ‘I’ character simply has to put up with him. No matter how much insane stuff Withnail does, ‘I’ sticks by him, even though it is obvious to anyone viewing that Withnail is dragging him down. The ‘I’ character is never given a name in the movie. Instead, we know of him as the narrator.

The two men become so fed up of their dreary lives in London, that they decide to take a break, and go on a holiday to the countryside in a cottage. The cottage is owned by Withnail’s uncle, Uncle Monty, who is played by the late Richard Griffiths. Once the two have permission to stay in the cabin, they then get on the road in their terrible car, and drive to the cottage. Naturally, hilarity ensues as soon as they arrive; sure, the movie was terrific up until now, but, when they are at the cabin, the film becomes side-splittingly funny. It’s just wonderful.

Unlike modern comedies, which tend to focus too much on the more generic ways of making people laugh, this film makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. Dark comedies tend to thrive on this. A dark comedy is the same as a regular comedy, except it uses much more mature themes, language and performances. Withnail & I is the best example of this that I can find. If you don’t like humour that is often mean-spirited, and blunt, then this isn’t the movie for you; however, if you do, you’re bound to love this movie as much as I did.

To start, Richard E Grant is absolutely perfect as Withnail. A sober man in real life, Grant plays the raging alcoholic with great charm and skill. His actions make him seem like a horrible person; however, the way that he is portrayed makes him an insanely likeable character. Paul McGann is also terrific as ‘I’. He plays the character with a subtlety that makes him like a partner to a side act. However, when he stands up to Withnail, and gets angry, it can lead to some of the best scenes in the whole movie. In fact, everyone is perfect in this movie. In terms of side characters, Richard Griffiths is wonderfully absurd as Monty, giving the character the flamboyant attitude that makes him so memorable.

Not only that, you’ll also be given some of the most surreal, strange and downright bizarre minor characters. For example,you’ll get Danny, who is basically a bizarre drug dealer. He’s only in two scenes, but you’ll remember them vividly. He’s just so hilarious, but so oblivious to the world, and you’ll instantly like him.

One more thing that I want to touch on is the ending of the movie; don’t worry, no spoilers here. For some people, the ending can be seen as frustrating, as it is quite abrupt, and sudden. Yet, despite everything that goes on, the ending can be seen as a surprisingly touching and powerful moment, as it is summing up the stories of two characters that we have come to love so much. In addition, the way that it is acted really shows the strong bond between the two actors, which makes their on-screen bond even more believable. It’s a great little moment from such a loud, bombastic movie.

To conclude, this film offers up brilliant performances, terrific writing (which is insanely quotable), a meaningful story, an extremely catchy soundtrack and one of the most touching endings to a movie I think I’ve ever seen. It is truly a masterclass in British comedy.

Withnail & I – 10/10



4 thoughts on “A Film Review of Withnail and I -Toby Smith, Year 11

  1. E Wade

    A cult classic. Filled with many lines that are regularly quoted in our family! Jeff Wode is a particular favourite. We have the screenplay sitting on our bookshelf for reference – worth a purchase! Glad you enjoyed it so much Toby, great review.


  2. S McCann

    It’s years since I watched this film…your enthusiastic review has inspired me to dig it out and enjoy it all over again…thanks Toby!


  3. A.Hewitt

    One of mine too, great write up!
    ‘we’ve gone on holiday by mistake.’
    I’ve thought of that line on more than one occasion whilst away with the family!


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