Children are never too young to be introduced to the delights of Richard E. Grant drinking lighter fluid and shouting "Fork it!", so yesterday my eight-month-old Charlotte and I watched Withnail and I. That is, I watched it while she crawled around on the floor, banging wooden blocks together and singing gibberish. She did stop to watch the bit where the bull chases Marwood and the bit where Withnail is trying to catch fish by drunkenly firing a shotgun into a creek. Fortunately I decided against playing the Withnail and I drinking game. Charlotte can't handle her liquor.
Withnail gets better every time I see it. For the first hour or so, practically every line is brilliant and the delivery even better. The final act drifts into tragicomedy, and is reasonably successful. The first, and probably second and third, times I saw the film I was disappointed by the ending. Now I can see how showing the disolution of the fragile relationship between Withnail and Marwood is the only possible ending, and one presaged quite early. The final scenes are excellent. The shot of Withnail standing in the pissing rain telling Marwood he'll miss him is lovely and sad, Grant's face like that of a frightened, unusually stubbly little boy. Then he quotes Hamlet at a bunch of bored wolves! You don't get that sort of thing in just any film.
It is a pity the original novel has never been published. Robinson wrote it in 1969, the same year the story is set. Apparently the novel ends with Withnail pouring wine into the barrel of a shotgun then firing it as he drinks from it. I'm glad Robinson rewrote the ending for the film, leaving Withnail's fate ambiguous. He probably just went home and drank himself to death - much more cheerful.