When the festival organisers asked us to host a movie in a pub, there was really only one option.
Sure, we talked about The Big Lebowski, World’s End, Inherent Vice, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, but we knew we were merely trying to avoid being obvious. But why fight it, when’s it’s perfect – as Half-life once told a comely nun?
It’s true that the plot to Withnail & I is not up to much: (**Spoiler Alert** Two out of work actors go on holiday. It rains. One gets a job. The other doesn’t. The end.) But the script is impeccable and the casting inspired. Almost every line is a quotable gem.
Paul McGann’s ‘I’ provides a perfect foil for Withnail and Uncle Monty; vivid characters who, for all their preposterousness, possess authenticity. Modelled on real people, they are superbly played by Richard E Grant and Richard Griffiths, respectively. Withnail was based on writer and director Bruce Robinson’s former house-mate, Vivian MacKerell, and Monty on Franco Zeffirelli, who Robinson worked with on Romeo & Juliet. They, along with Danny, the ‘purveyor of rare herbs and prescribed chemicals’, are entirely plausible eccentrics.
But of course the main attraction of Withnail & I is that it’s one of the funniest films ever made. And this comic masterpiece connects with Deserter for its focus on our core subjects.
Any film that inspires its own drinking game earns our respect. During the course of the movie, Withnail puts away something like nine and a half glasses of red wine, two pints of cider, one shot of lighter fluid, two large gins, six glasses of sherry, thirteen measures of Scotch, some Pernod and an ale. Good going for an hour and a half.
Withnail contains some of the silver screen’s most unforgettable swearing, with a litany of inventive profanity. Despite its 38 fucks, it never feels overdone. Not unless you’re named Monty.
Along with the casual pill use, Danny provides us with perhaps cinema’s most memorable spliff: The Camberwell Carrot, a 12-skin behemoth. It also gives us our only South London reference – and a noble one at that.
Withnail is more than just a great comedy. 30 years old this year, it mourns the end of the era in which it’s set (the ’60s), and reflects on friendship, delayed adulthood and the avoidance of reality.
The strength of the script means that you can watch it over and over and still find lines of gold you hadn’t noticed before because you were still chuckling about previous dialogue.
If you haven’t seen it, you’d be mad not to join us in the beer garden of the White Swan. And if you have seen it, you’ll know you should really watch it again, in a pub.