Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On holiday by mistake

It all sounds so idyllic doesn't it, a weekend escape to the country? For two out-of-work actors in one of the most hilarious films I know, a trip to country is  a way of avoiding their squalid flat and the nasty questioning that too much idle time brings. Withnail and I's two central characters, played by Richard E. Grant (Withnail) and Paul McGann (I), are in desperate need of a break from the grim life of waiting for a role in 1969 London. Of course, being down and out, the only solution is to approach Withnail's fabulous uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) to persuade him to loan the keys to his country home. Seeing the amber comfort of his London home, their prospects for a comfortable stay seem excellent. From a decorating point of view, this is the story of three homes, of which Monty's is the first.

Next is the aspiring actors shared grey Camden flat - a wreck steeped in personal memorabilia, but not completely devoid of charm, or wouldn't be if Withnail were not such an impractical slob. Their kitchen is the worst of it with unwashed dishes that have stacked up to a scary state with suspected rodent life crawling beneath it. And then there's Danny the dealer friend who has a way of showing up all the time.

So off to the country it is. Only, it would be better not to arrive completely unprepared at night in the pouring rain with Withnail in a railing state of drunkenness.
 This third home is not exactly the idyllic escape they had imagined.  I've rented enough country houses through the years to know they are not always easy to settle in and planning is important in places you go to get away from it all if you want to do simple things like eat.

Things look pretty grim. Simple things like heat, food, and adequate booze are not easy to come by. The country folk are less than welcoming and take them for extraterrestrials. And they might as well be for all they understand of how to do things for themselves where they have landed. "We've gone on holiday by mistake!" they explain, begging for help finding food in the drenched countryside.
But when Monty shows up by surprise, his talent makes all those mundane worries disappear. Suddenly we don't recognize the house. Cold, creaky, and uninhabitable become cottage-y, cozy and warm. The gramophone is cranked up. Food becomes cuisine; thirst is more than quenched with fine wines -but some appetites cannot be satisfied. Withnail has encouraged certain misunderstandings in lovesick Monty.... And as for their acting careers, Monty, too, had once had theatrical aspirations, but he sighs, there's always ''that morning when you wake up and say, 'Alas, I shall never play the Dane.' "


  1. thank you for sharing this wonderful film. Its been a very long time since I saw it and it's really a very funny film.

  2. I first saw it long ago too, but it is a film that holds up after all these years. In buying the dvd, I discovered that it had a real cult following.