Tag Archives: Richard E. Grant

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

Written and directed by: Bruce Robinson

Produced by: Paul Heller

Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard Griffiths


***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” Withnail


I am not one to believe in fate, but there has to be something magical about the random moment, at the age of seventeen, I was perusing my local video shop looking for a film to rent, and the cover of low-budget, British independent character drama, Withnail and I (1987), shone amidst the variety of Hollywood produced fodder. I picked up the box and for some reason the story of two unemployed actors mooching about at the fag end of the 1960s called to me. Perhaps it was the front cover featuring the debauched and worse-for-wear looking character of Withnail which drew me in? Or was it the casting of Paul McGann as the eponymous ‘I’, an actor I recognised from excellent TV drama, The Monocled Mutineer. Whatever the reasons, I rented the film and a special bond was formed forthwith. It lasts to this day.

Firmly in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, Withnail and I (1987) simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners, and speeches. Another major strength of Bruce Robinson’s elegantly profane screenplay is the relationship between permanently inebriated and cowardly ‘thespian’, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his buddy, ‘I’ (McGann). It is a strange friendship full of mutual disrespect, petty bickering, and envy, but by the end of the film a kindly form of love is revealed. Withnail may seem an angry man, but ultimately, he’s using that ire to hide pain, sadness, and disappointment.




“I feel like a pig shat in my head.” Withnail


Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly Withnail, who, along with ‘I’, laments a lack of career opportunities. Such bitterness, jealousy and ranting make him hugely obnoxious. However, Robinson’s exquisite writing and Grant’s subtly empathetic performance actually create an incredibly poignant character. Well, that and he’s absolutely hilarious, Indeed, it’s a hedonistic joy witnessing Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity as he attempts to obliterate the now and tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal, so director Bruce Robinson had to get him very, very drunk in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.

Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I (1987) again, although he does have other impressive writing credits. But this screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time. Lastly, his often quoted but rarely bettered work is one of the greatest I have ever read, brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults, and drunken repartee. I mean there is little plot to the story of two actors getting drunk, going to the country, getting drunk and coming back. However, it remains one of my favourite films of all time, with one of the most memorable characters in Withnail.


STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Michelle Rejwan

Screenplay/Story by: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow – based on characters created by George Lucas

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant etc.

Music by: John Williams

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**



The J. J. Abrams directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) reboot broke not only the internet, but also box office records worldwide. It was a safe, entertaining and impressive spectacle which combined a mix of older characters we knew and loved, plus some bright young new things too. The action was breathtaking and brilliantly done, however, the story was a retread of A New Hope (1977) (with a female Luke), plus a series of glaring plot holes. Still, loads of action and great bad guys made this a fun blockbuster. 

Director Rian Johnson’s, sequel Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, another massive hit across the galaxy too. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling. Indeed, the whole trilogy ground to a virtual standstill with Rey’s central story standing still and Poe and Finn’s mission proving to be a redundant decoy and wild goose chase rolled into one. Furthermore, I was shocked that a meta-filmmaker like Rian Johnson was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking choices are too genre subversive and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver) and Luke’s emotionally charged arc, yet overall it failed as a Star Wars story.


Thus, it was not surprising when genre specialist, J. J. Abrams, was brought back to save the trilogy with The Rise of Skywalker (2019). In returning to the safe, fast-paced, spectacular blockbuster style of The Force Awakens (2015), we may have lost idiosyncratic moments of character and humour, but at least this story has plot cohesion, punchy pay-offs and emotional impact. What The Rise of Skywalker (2019) also has is incredible visual set-pieces throughout. The J. J. Abrams led production army of special effects wizards have given us some memorable light-sabre and space battles. One in particular on the moon of Endor, that finds Kylo-Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) facing off, took my breath away.

Another major strength of this final episode is that Rey’s narrative arc is finally given the development it should have got in The Last Jedi (2017). Daisy Ridley’s performance too in this film is excellent. While she was a bit lightweight in the first two films, I felt she really came into her own here. This is helped by the revelation as to who her real parents were. Having said that, Abrams and his co-writers desperately scrabble around in the first hour of the film trying to set this up. At times the pace was too hectic. However, once it settled and all the flashbacks and back stories were in place, Rey’s character faces a very ominous choice. Conversely, her deadly psychic link with Kylo Ren continues to be a fascinating duel of mind, spirit and body. These developments are assisted by another compelling performance by Adam Driver. Kylo Ren’s internal struggle comes to the fore too, with a number of heart-pounding pay-offs at the end.



I’m also pleased to say that Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, and Finn (John Boyega) are given a real meaty mission to get their teeth into. One that in fact links to the main story and themes of the whole film too. The standard plot McGuffin here is a Sith “wayfinder”, which the rebel team and Rey set out to recover. Let’s be honest, it’s no more than a “Treasure Hunt” plot structure, however, at least it allows for the more emotionally charged aspects of the story to develop and leads us perfectly to the incredible battle sequences in the final act. Moreover, plot predictability aside, there are other weaknesses in the film. I didn’t mind the CGI-driven rendition of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), however, by the ninth episode in the franchise I felt maybe they’d waited too late to introduce new aspects of the Jedi mind-trickery. But, hey it worked well in the story and was so cool that you just accept ‘the force’ as is.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is a return to genre form following the idiosyncratic subversion of The Last Jedi (2017). In fact, it was so entertaining it is the most enjoyable one (excluding the prequels) of the new trilogy. Despite a rapid start to the narrative, which tries to recoup the ground lost by the prior film, once it finds a rhythm there are some amazing action set-pieces, impressively cinematic visuals and thrilling emotional moments. While it may adhere to cookie-cutter, franchise genre expectations, overall, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is delivered with incredible force and made for perfect holiday blockbuster entertainment.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


ALCOHOLICS ASSEMBLE! SOME “GREAT” ON-SCREEN DRUNKS!

ALCOHOLICS ASSEMBLE!  SOME “GREAT” ON-SCREEN DRUNKS! 

“I was in love with a beautiful blonde once. She drove me to drink. It’s the one thing I’m indebted to her for.”
W.C. Fields, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Cinema and booze have always been two of my favourite things to distract me before I stagger off to the great pub in the sky!  So, why not have a look at some of the great drunks, characters and performances I have enjoyed over the years on the box or at the cinema.

AL PACINO – SCARFACE (1983)

While the rise of Pacino’s monstrous Cocaine-Capitalist owes much to narcotics and murder, he also plays a mean and nasty drunk. This is seen most notably in the restaurant scene where he spits and spews insults at his wife and the upper-middle classes surrounding him.  Never has intoxication been so nasty and yet as sociologically adroit.

ARTHUR HOUSMAN – LAUREL AND HARDY (VARIOUS)

Laurel and Hardy are still the funniest people ever committed to celluloid but they had also had a fine “mess” of supporting actors. One of them was Arthur Housman, who was the go-to-guy when you wanted a funny lush.  I reckon acting drunk is far more difficult than it looks but this guy nails it perfectly.

BARNEY GUMBLE – THE SIMPSONS (1989 – )

Barney Gumble’s status as a boozer is so legendary he actually makes Homer’s drinking look normal.  Rarely is Barney sober and even his catchphrase is a supersonic belch from the pits of hell.  Occasionally he will clean up or venture into normality but Barney will always be a hilarious alcoholic we’ve come to love.

BILLY BOB THORNTON – BAD SANTA (2003)

We all love a Christmas piss-up but Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken Santa does it all year round. He basically drinks in order to escape the shittiness of his life and a job he hates.  This film is one of the greatest comedies of all time as Willie Stokes hits rock bottom and the self-destruct button too!

DEAN MARTIN – RIO BRAVO (1959)

Part of the original Rat Pack, Dean Martin, was known for his wild drinking ways off-stage.  So, when he played drunkard, the Dude, in classic Western Rio Bravo (1959) there’s a thick varnishing of truth brought to the role. Martin’s Dude is a ridiculed because of his over-reliance on booze, thus the character attempts to get back some self-respect in a narrative heavy on machismo and redemption.

DENZIL WASHINGTON – FLIGHT (2012)

A jaw-dropping plane crash and landing introduces us to super-pilot Whip Whitaker. He should be celebrated as a hero but the character’s downfall is he performed this death-defying feat while high on drugs and alcohol.  Washington is incredible in this brilliant evocation of a man battling addiction and his struggle is brilliantly orchestrated by Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis.

LEE REMICK & JACK LEMMON – DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962)

This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery.

MICKEY ROURKE – BARFLY (1987)

Charles Bukowski was one of the great boozers of all time as he actually drank incessantly AND became a celebrated author. He didn’t just write about drinking and women but also his failure to reconcile with the futility of existence.  Thankfully such dark materials made some great books as well as Barfly starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. It’s painful to watch but a faithful rendition of Bukowski’s jet-black wit and mordant writing.

MICHAEL ELPHICK – AUF WEIDERSEHEN PET (1983 – 1984)

Elphick was a stalwart of British TV and cinema for years and brought a grizzled but often empathetic quality to his roles. He was comfortable as the lovable rogue and vicious hard man; none more so when he played psychotic drunken Irishmen McGowan in classic 80s comedy-drama Auf Weidersehen Pet. His character was so scary even Jimmy Nail’s Oz was fearful of him. Sadly, Elphick himself would pass away due to alcohol-related illness.

NICOLAS CAGE – LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995)

The “Town Drunk” and “Tart with A Heart” are staple characters throughout our culture and these archetypes are breathed new life through incredible performances by Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue.  Cage’s writer is determined to drink himself to death while Shue’s hooker is just trying to survive. They are an unlikely romantic couple as this hard-hitting drama plays like a touching prayer to the bottle, the gutter and the emptiness of existence without love.

PETER COOK AND DUDLEY MOORE – DEREK AND CLIVE GET THE HORN (1979)

Derek and Clive were the filthy alter-egos of comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They released a series of sexually explicit, racist, sexist, homophobic, scatological and scurrilously hilarious albums in the 1970s. Moore and Cook basically got smashed and committed to tape a string of obnoxious sketches unsuitable to man nor beast. Both were alcoholics and the film version of Derek and Clive illustrates that. Dudley Moore would even have a box office hit as millionaire pisshead Arthur (1981) but this film, shot as they were kind of splitting up, is raw, funny and at times painful to watch.

RAY MILLAND – LOST WEEKEND (1949)

This dark noir is another filmic masterpiece from Billy Wilder. Ray Milland’s writer battles the bottle and those closest to him in an attempt to feed his addiction. Milland won an Oscar and not only lost weight but stayed in a mental institution in preparation. It’s an important film as it was one of the first to show alcoholic’s destructive nature rather than present the comedic drunk that had appeared mostly on screen up until that then.

RICHARD E. GRANT – WITHNAIL AND I (1987)

“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

This often quoted but rarely bettered screenplay is one of the greatest I have ever witnessed and read; brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults and drunken repartee.  Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly actor who with Paul McGann’s eponymous ‘I’ for company laments a lack of career opportunities at the fag-end of the 1960s. It’s a hedonistic and bitter sweet joy with Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity attempting to obliterate the now to avoid the tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal so director Bruce Robinson had to get him “pissed” in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.

W.C. FIELDS – VARIOUS

W. C. Fields was a comedy genius who began on the stages of Vaudeville as a juggler and became one of the most famous drunks on the silver screen. One may argue he simply transferred his alcoholic persona onto film but there’s some skill in being able to turn a weakness into a towering comedic strength. His one-liners and insults have gone down in history as some of the smartest and sarcastic ever written and when compiling this list his was one of the first name’s on it.

WILLIE ROSS – RITA SUE AND BOB TOO (1987)

Last but not least is the imperious drunk Willie Ross.  His is the best lagging-pisshead acting I have ever seen on screen!  His character in Rita, Sue and Bob Too was a racist, sexist, unemployable, drunken bully who when stood up to would simply cower amidst his own weak character and lack of bravado.  Club comedian Ross also appeared in classic British TV drama Our Friends in The North as Daniel Craig vicious alcoholic father and also on stage in plays by Chekhov and Coward.