Withnail- The Universal Treasury

This piece was written by Kev McCready. If you don’t already you should follow him @KevMcCready

Kev is a writer and has been a supporter of @WithnailBrum from the outset. Prior to reading this piece I had, wherefore I know not, started losing faith in #MontyMarch – no one is buying tickets and the stupendous success of #WithnailWeekend seems long ago. Kev has reminded me why the film matters so much and provided me with a much needed burst of theatrical zeal. You can come and join us in paying tribute to Richard Griffiths on 28th March 2015 by booking tickets here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/montymarch-a-tribute-to-richard-griffiths-tickets-12623967627?aff=es2&rank=0


Enjoy this piece- it is oh so spleeeeeeendid.

Some things take their time. What you love and what you hate, are doing a constant, contemporary dance around your subconscious. Some things lodge themselves there, a constant source of joy in your life. A bird both nesting and singing in your heart. When I first saw Withnail And I in 1987, it passed me by. And as a fat eighteen year old kid, failing his A Levels in slowmo; with absolutely no chance of getting laid… it should.

Come the tenth anniversary re-issue in 1996. I was ready. In a grotty Scouse art-house cinema, I had what counsellors call ‘the peak experience’, colloquially known as ‘the light bulb moment’ Withnail And I struck me, lodged itself in my subconciousness and like Uncle Monty in Marwood’s bedroom; has refused to leave.
So, why do I love it? Well probably for the same reasons you do. As a writer, I admire the screenwriting by Bruce Robinson. It’s a brilliant, poetic, script full of vivid imagery and character development. You will be familiar with the story about Richard E Grant auctioning the script for his old school in Swaziland. Richard Curtis bought it… and then gave it back to him; saying it was the best script ever written. Some praise. Where this fits into his style of white, posh Englishmen swearing in heavy rain is another article.

I know lots of actors. Some of my best friends are actors. I’ve written for actors. Give them the right script, and make them happy. There’s nothing worse than a tired thespian. Withnail And I teems with great performances. The controlled hysteria of Richard E Grant. The quiet, almost understated performance of Paul McGann. Richard Griffiths, a sad, yet seedy individual. Ralph Brown, not so much acting Danny The Dealer, but squatting in him. I’ve seen good actors with bad scripts, great scripts with bad actors. Withnail And I is one of the rare occasions I have seen both in the same place. Like a short film by Peter Jackson, this is a rarity.

But let’s look at things objectively. The subjective is never enough, in my book. Withnail And I teems with themes. Actors, and by extension artists. Wanting to be famous, rather than rich. The squalid nature of the late 1960’s, rather than the peace and love fiction. The transience of some friendships. Some people are with you for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Not everyone is going to be with you forever. Sometimes you go one way, and life goes the other. It crosses the street and you never see the person you loved ever again.
At the end of the film, Marwood is off to Manchester. I’d love to think he was appearing at The Royal Exchange, it’s one of my favourite theatres. He will go on to be a successful actor. He’s grown up. Withnail will amount to nothing. When Withnail stands in the park, performs the speech from Hamlet (Act II, Scene II), his life is up. ‘It is a sad day in any man’s life when he realises… I shall never play The Dane’. Withnail is based on Vivian MacKerrel, a friend of Bruce Robinson’s; who talked a good game as an actor. In the original script, Withnail kills himself with a shotgun, a bottle of wine poured down the barrels. Both stolen from Uncle Monty. That is why, no matter how much I laugh like a drain when watching it, I cry at the end. A man, with literally nothing to live for is about to kill himself. He might not play The Dane, but he has certainly died like him.

So, Withnail And I is a universal treasury. From ‘King Of The Rodeo’ by Kings Of Leon (‘You come round here, like Withnail for a favour!’, to a pissed Peter Barlow in Coronation Street (‘Honestly officer, I’m not drunk, I’ve only had a few ales!’; to the sign in an episode of Endeavour (R DUCK & CO. 4th Floor THEATRICAL AGENT). Us Scrubbers are everywhere. We don’t need to possess something that appears to be everywhere. Withnail and I exists and is perfection. The stage version (Jude Law as Withnail), thankfully never came to pass. Thank god. It is part of my life, but not an obsession. However, to paraphrase Woody Allen: ‘I could never love anyone who didn’t love Withnail’. That’s why I would urge you to join me in #MontyMarch. It’s high time we met, my fellow scrubbers. See you there. GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN!
– Kev McCready


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