“Withnail & I”, or “RIP Richard Griffiths, You Wonderful Man” by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on April 12, 2013

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One of the greatest moments of my life to date was meeting Paul McGann (best known for his portrayals of the eighth Doctor, and the eponymous I of Withnail & I). He was utterly charming and had the most beautiful blue eyes. Indeed, he looked deep into my own eyes as he shook my hand and, as he left my old workplace, said, “Until we meet again.” I nearly passed out.

Other than Mr McGann’s utter dreaminess, the other resounding memory I have from that happenstance meeting is when we briefly spoke about the aforementioned film. He spoke with particular fondness of the scene in which Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) propositions I (never does the audience discover his name). He claimed Griffiths was terribly concerned with delivering an inauthentic or downright insulting portrayal of an aging gay man who is given terrifically incorrect information by his selfish nephew, Withnail (Richard E. Grant). The scene encapsulates much of what I love about this film, recalling the indulgent abandon of social norms throughout the 60s, which gave rise to the ‘free love’ movement and successive decay of British society in the 70s.

Withnail (Richard E Grant) and Uncle Monty (the late Richard Griffiths).

Withnail (Richard E Grant) and Uncle Monty (the late Richard Griffiths).

Richard Griffiths passed away last weekend on Good Friday, and with his death Britain lost one of its finest actors. Be it Uncle Monty, Uncle Vernon (Harry Potter), or Hector (The History Boys); several of my friends have their favourite Griffiths character. With every performance he brought something of the stage – always just over-dramatic enough to amuse and not irritate.

It so happens that Withnail is my favourite film and there was a time when I would watch it once a week. Being something of a ‘cult classic’, a number of people know the most famous quotes “I demand to have some booze!” and “Monty you terrible cunt!” being amongst the most popular. I always knew the name of this column would come from this film, and last week it warmed my heart to know that I may have somehow inadvertently acknowledged Griffiths in some small way. The line “Here, Hare, Here’ is delivered by him and never fails to make me smile.

The piercing gaze of I (Paul McGann).

The film itself depicts two young out-of-work actors living in Camden in 1969. It opens with the absurdly handsome I delivering a monologue in a café about how he cannot cope with the world outside and must escape. His best friend, Withnail, is an upper class, untrustworthy, unreliable and magnificently self-absorbed fool. They decide to get away from it all and visit the country up north in Cumbria with the help of Uncle Monty. The two city boys blunder around “in all this beastly mud and oomska without a decent pair of wellingtons” until Monty arrives. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

If you haven’t seen it before, I urge you to watch it and try to see beyond all the boozing to the heart of this film. It’s a beautiful portrayal of youth and “the end of the greatest decade in the history of mankind.” Withnail’s solemn monologue at the very end really sums it up “Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so.”

RIP Richard Griffiths, you magnificent bastard.

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident film critic. You can read her column, Here. Hare. Here., every Friday. 

Are you a part of the Withnail & I cult? To the comments!

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