As we begin to slowly emerge out of lockdown, blinking into the sunlight, let us take a brief foray into some moments of the last few months. Like the last stragglers emerging from a party in the early hours of the morning, we’re all trying to remember what the hell happened last night, or last week, month, or maybe even this very afternoon.
‘Withnail and I’ directed by Bruce Robinson came into the world rather quietly in 1987 with a limited release in cinemas. Late night screenings and word of mouth meant the film later came into prominence as a cult classic. After a brief resurgence post Brexit vote, the film is oddly prescient during these times of isolation. Here are some reminders of the film’s iconic scenes and quotes, within the context of lockdown.
1. The Washing Up
“There are things in there, there’s a teabag growing”
‘Withnail and I’ begins in Withnail and Marwood’s flat in Camden, at the arse-end of the sixties. The unemployed, constantly pissed actors have seemingly forgotten their domestic duties – their kitchen looks akin to an exploded crockery factory. Faced with what seemed like an unknown apocalypse, your flat may have resembled this chaos at some point. Lockdown began with an ideal of domestic harmony. This semblance of order slowly washed away, like the dregs of a mouldy cup of tea. You reach a point when you can’t take it anymore. “Right you fucker, I’m going to do the washing up!” you scream at an unfortunate flatmate who happens to be in the room. They deplore you to reconsider, as fervently as Paul McGann tackles Richard E. Grant in the opening minutes of the film. “There are things in there, there’s a teabag growing”, he screams, “don’t attempt anything without the gloves!”
2. The Plant Obsession
“I happen to think the cauliflower more beautiful than the rose”
Withnail and Marwood pay a visit to the former’s rich Uncle Monty (played by the fantastic Richard Griffiths), to try and nab a week in his country house, to escape their London flat and move their habits to a more rural setting. On entering the house Marwood discovers with slight panic that Uncle Monty is a few steps past eccentric. His luxurious living room is decorated with cauliflower and cress growing from antiques. With the kitchen being a forgotten cause, you have delved into the plant department, to sustain any sense of a wholesome household. Your room becomes almost as bizarre as Uncle Monty’s. You adorn it liberally with whatever plants you manage to get your hands on in Sainsbury’s. Yet, no matter how hard you try, they seem to want to survive even less than your sourdough starter.
3. Going Outside
“I think we’ve been here too long, I feel unusual, I think we should go outside”
Once a day you forsake your flat for the wonders of ‘nature’ and a spot of government-sanctioned exercise. Similar to Withnail and Marwood’s foray into the countryside, your walk is never as harmonious or as green as planned. Leaving the house and playing socially distanced human dodgems is becoming less appealing by the day. Yet the alternative of staying inside leaves you feeling ‘unusual’. You start to question what day it is, what time it is, and is there really any time anymore? Withnail and Marwood give up fresh air and instead down gin at their local, the Mother Black Cap – an appealing idea for you but unfortunately not an option (although hats off if you’ve managed to find a take-away pint). Instead, you pound the pavements once more, avoiding direct eye contact, and listen to yet another podcast.
4. The Drinking
“I must have some booze, I demand to have some booze!”
At a desperate point in the film, Withnail resorts to drinking lighter fluid after he dramatically declares “I must have some booze!” to no avail. The end of the day brings you to similar sentiments, though hopefully not lighter fluid. It’s 6pm, another day has come to a close and the urge to shift half a bottle of wine is growing stronger by the minute. Is a bottle of Echo Falls deemed an essential enough item? You give in, and nip to the off-licence, masked and gloved. The shop owner and you are now on a first name basis, and you emerge into the evening light, triumphant if not a little guilty with a bottle in hand.
5. The Politics
“Shat on by the Tories, shovelled up by Labour”
The current political stakes are just a little more urgent than the delivery of this line in the film, declared by Uncle Monty; glass of ’53 Margaux in hand, sitting in his country house. The phrase had a brief renaissance for some post Brexit and is quite the zeitgeist for the lockdown period. The word Durham is enough to remind us all that the country’s lockdown efforts have been spectacularly ‘shat on’ in the last few days, if not before. Let’s hope Keir Starmer possesses a very large shovel.
By Annabel Wood