Great Scene: “Withnail & I”

February 8th, 2014 by

One of my absolute favorite comedies is Withnail and I (1987). Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, the movie features amazing performances by several actors including Richard E. Grant as Withnail, Paul McGann as I (Marwood), and Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty. Here’s a summary (IMDB) of the plot:

London 1969 – two ‘resting’ (unemployed and unemployable) actors, Withnail and Marwood, fed up with damp, cold, piles of washing-up, mad drug dealers and psychotic Irishmen, decide to leave their squalid Camden flat for an idyllic holiday in the countryside, courtesy of Withnail’s uncle Monty’s country cottage. But when they get there, it rains non-stop, there’s no food, and their basic survival skills turn out to be somewhat limited. Matters are not helped by the arrival of Uncle Monty, who shows an uncomfortably keen interest in Marwood…

The movie is full of great scenes, but I chose the sequence featuring Danny “the headhunter”. As far as I know, there’s no script available online, so we have to make due with a transcrip:

The Bathroom

[I is in the bath shaving.]

I:
Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off
the plane. Timechange. You lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long
as you keep taking the pills. But sooner or later you've got to get
out because it's crashing then all at once the frozen hours melt out
through the nervous system and seep out the pores.

[Withnail enters with their lunch from the chippy]

Withnail:
The bastards. Justice suck. It's a miserable cheap cigar and the
bastards won't see me.
I:
Why are we having lunch in here?
Withnail:
It's dinner and Danny's here.
I:
Danny!? How did he get in?
Withnail:
I let him in this morning. He lost one of his clogs. He's come in
because of the perpetual cold. I hope the buggers sales plummet.
I:
I've got your savaloy. Here. I don't want it.
Withnail:
Then stick it in the soap tray and save it for later.

[He scrunches up the paper that was holding his chips and puts it in the
toilet]

I:
Don't vent spleen on me. I'm in the same boat.
Withnail:
Stop saying that. You're not in the same boat. The only thing you're
in that I've been in is this fucking bath.
I:
Danny's here. Head hunter to his friends. Head hunter to everybody. He
doesn't have any friends. The only people he converses with are his
clients and occasionally the police. The purveyor of rare herbs and
prescribed chemicals is back. Will we never be set free?

[I comes out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.]

I:
Danny.
Danny:
You're looking very beautiful man. Have you been away? St. Peter
preached the epistles to the apostles looking like that. Have you
got any food.
I:
Mmm, As a matter of fact, got a savaloy.
Danny:
How much is it?
I:
You can have it for nothing.
[Danny sniffs the sausage. Withnail enters from the kitchen gluing the
sole back on his shoe. He is wearing a rather expensive looking suit.]

Danny:
I see you're wearing a suit.
Withnail:
What's it got to do with you?
Danny:
No need to get uptight man. I was merely making an observation. I
happened to be looking for a suit for the coal man two weeks ago. For
reasons I can't really discuss with you the coal man had to go to
Jamaica. Got busted coming back through Heathrow, had the weight under
his fez. We wored out that it would be handycarma for him to get hold
of a suit but he's a very low temperature spade the coal man, went
into court wearing a kaftan and a bell. This doesn't go down at all
well. They can handle the kaftan but they can't handle the bell. So
there's this judge sitting there sitting in a cape like fucking batman
with this really rather far out looking hat
Withnail:
A wig.
Danny:
No man, this was more like a long white hat. So he looks at the
coalman and says 'what's all this. This is a court man. This ain't
fancy dress' and the coal man looks at him and says 'you think you
look normal, your honour?'. Cunt give him two years.

[I laughs a little. Withnail looks on unamuzed.]

Danny:
I'm afraid I can't offer you gentlemen anything.
I:
That's alright Danny. We'd decided to lay off for a bit.
Danny:
That's what I thought. Except for personal use I concur with you. as a
matter of fact i was thinking of retiring and going into business
Withnail [Scoffing]:
Doing what?
Danny:
The toy industry.

[There is a strange looking contraption on the table involving a bottle.]

Withnail:
Thought you were in the bottle industry.
Danny:
No man, that's a side line. You can have that. Instructions are
included. Yeah. My partner's got a really good idea for making dolls.
His name's 'Presuming Ed'. His sister give him the idea. She got a
doll on Christmas what pisses itself.
Withnail:
Really.
Danny:
Then you've got to change its draws for it. Horrible really but
they're like that the little girls. So we're going to make one that
shits itself too.
Withnail:
Shits itself!?
Danny:
He's an expert. He's building the prototype now. [To I] Why's he
behaving so uptightly.
Withnail:
Because a gang of cheroot vendors consider a hair cut beyond the limit
of my abilities
Danny:
I don't advise a hair cut man. All hairdressers are in the employment
of the government. Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from
the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the
reason bold-headed men are uptight.
Withnail:
What absolute twaddle.
Danny:
Has he just been busted?
I:
No.
Danny:
Then why's he wearing that old suit?
Withnail:
Old suit? This suit was cut by Hawke's of Saville row. Just because
the best tailoring you've ever seen is above you fucking appendix
doesn't mean anything.
Danny:
Don't get uptight with me man. Because if you do I'll have to give you
a dose of medicine and if I spike you you'll know you've been spoken
to.
Withnail:
You wouldn't spike me you're too mean. Besides, there's nothing
invented I couldn't take.
Danny:
If I medicined you you'd think a brain tumour was a birthday present.
Withnail:
I could take double anything you could.
Danny [removing his sunglasses]:
Very, very foolish words man.
I:
He's right Withnail. Look at him . His mechanisms gone. He's had more
drugs than you've had hot dinners.
Withnail:
I'm not having this shag-sack insulting me. Let him get his drugs out.

[Danny gets a doll out of a bag.]

Danny:
This doll is extremely dangerous. It has voodoo qualities.

[Withnail snorts. Danny takes the head off the doll and extracts a handful
of pills.]

Danny:
Trade: Phenodihydrochloride benzelex. Street: The embalmer.
Withnail:
Balls. I'll swallow it and run a mile.
Danny:
Cool your boots man. This pill's valued at two quid.
Withnail:
Two quid! You're out of your mind.
I:
That's sense Withnail.
Withnail:
You can stuff it up your arse for nothing and fuck off while you're
doing it.
Danny:
No need to insult me man. I was leaving anyway. Have either of you got
shoes?

Such inanity! Fantastic stuff! Actor Ralph Brown, who played Danny, reprised a variation of the role in Wayne’s World 2 (1993) as Del Preston, the ultimate roadie who was prone to dispensing sage advice like this:

Listen, sonny Jim. Sleeping like this will add ten years to your life. I learned it from Keith Richards when I toured with the Stones. This may be the reason why Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons.

Any Withnail and I fans out there?

[Originally posted February 26, 2010]

UPDATE: I have been chastened by @ToWitLudo for using a transcript as s/he has a hard copy of the script for Withnail & I. To wit, here is a sample of the wonderful screenwriting skill of writer-director Bruce Robinson:

Now I’m off to “send a case of the finest wine known to humanity to Bruce Robinson to atone.”

4 thoughts on “Great Scene: “Withnail & I”

  1. […] London 1969 – two ‘resting’ (unemployed and unemployable) actors, Withnail and Marwood, fed up with damp, cold, piles of washing-up, mad drug dealers and psychotic Irishmen, decide to leave their squalid Camden flat for an idyllic holiday in the countryside, courtesy of Withnail’s uncle Monty’s country cottage. …read more […]

  2. hobbs001 says:

    Excellent film. Not just very funny indeed in places, but changes gears and really hits you when you don’t expect it.
    This is not just my favourite scene in the movie, but one of my all-time favourite scenes.
    http://youtu.be/K6R9fY8lfGo

  3. Dave Ralph says:

    Long time favorite of mine. First script I think I purchased (in book form). Funny that the one mention it received in my film school some years ago, was as an example of how NOT to write action description. Overly descriptive, prose style etc. Obviously easier to get away with when the writer is also the director… and as talented as Bruce Robinson is. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Despina says:

    Just watched it for the first time yesterday and I’m hooked. Obsessively hooked!

Leave a Reply

Connect with: