Withnail and I or The Full Monty

Ash Isaac

In memory of the recently departed Richard Griffiths, I have decided that the best way to honour his legacy is to witness his finest hour whilst simultaneously playing the Withnail drinking game. For the uninitiated of you, the game is thankfully simple. Every time one of the characters in Withnail and I has a drink, then so does the viewer. This is all in the cause of serious journalism, you understand.

Withnail, (Richard E. Grant), and the ‘I’, (Paul McGann), of the title are two struggling actors living together in a squalid flat in Camden. Their days consist of loitering, drinking and raging against the injustices of a cruel world that sees fit not to recognise their extravagant talents. A typical day in the life of most actors. Due to their chronic lack of work and stunted cash flow, the two of them are compelled to be as thrifty and resourceful as possible in order to survive. Rather than pay for heating, Withnail resorts to slathering Deep Heat all over his body. When the flat runs dry of alcohol, Withnail undertakes the next obvious step of downing lighter fluid, before scrambling around for the anti-freeze. Ah, to be a student again.

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In an attempt to escape their seemingly never-ending cycle of filth, drink and drugs, Withnail is persuaded to talk to his wealthy uncle, Monty, and ask for use of his cottage in the countryside. Griffiths plays the concupiscent and exceedingly eccentric Monty, a waddling hulk of a man who also fancies himself as a bit of a thespian and spends his days bickering with his pet cat and reciting poetry out loud. Monty assents to the use of his cottage and takes a liking to the look of ‘I’, (tentatively named ‘Marwood’ in the screenplay). Withnail and Marwood take off in their battered and rusting Jaguar and arrive at the equally dilapidated and rustic cottage for their rest cure.

It doesn’t take long for them to realise they’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. Confronted with no heating, no plumbing, no food and a collection of resentful locals, both Withnail and Marwood are forced to go beyond the admittedly low threshold of their comfort zones. Again, their attempts to adapt to their new surroundings are unorthodox; Withnail goes fishing with a shotgun, they wrap plastic bags around their feet and, as ever, there is always room for booze in the local alehouse where Withnail invokes the ire of Jake, the local poacher. Into the midst of all this turbulence emerges Monty who has decided to make an impromptu trip up to the cottage to see ‘his boys’. Monty’s presence exacerbates the tensions in the cottage as he commences a clumsy seduction attempt of Marwood which veers between the outright comical and the downright creepy.

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Both Monty and Withnail are tragicomic, flamboyant, larger than life figures who are never anything other than utterly compelling. The type of friends who demand all your attention, care and obeisance and after all that, still want to fuck you one way or the other. The pursuit of shameless hedonism has seen few champions like Withnail, classically trained, pathologically drunk, a preening, histrionic switchblade of a man. When people next ask you about who you would choose if you had to pick three drinking companions, alive or dead, real or fictional, then cross Jesus from the list and add Withnail.

Any film so dedicated to the noble arts of boozing, bacchanalia and brazen debauchery can’t be bad. I will admit I was unable to reach the end of the film in a state of total sobriety. Given that Withnail and I includes 9 ½ glasses of red wine, a pint of cider, a shot of lighter fluid, 2 ½ shots of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 whiskeys and a half pint of ale, this should not come as a great surprise.

In the great drinking game that is life, the question is not whether half full or half empty is an acceptable volumetric, but why have you got a half at all? Barman, a full pint of cider with ice and a gin chaser to go with it. Chin, chin.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.