Two penniless alcoholic junkies with aspirations of success and moving up the class ladder share a squalid London house in the second half of the twentieth century, and talk. A lot.
This is helped by their both being out of their minds with paranoia.
The plot involves their getting away for a week in the countryside to clear their heads, however one of those class problems I mentioned follows them out there. More conversations ensue about how simple-minded the rest of the world appears to be, our speakers unaware that this rather reflects their own simple-minded inability to perceive others in much detail. (part of the human condition) You have to wonder how clever they might both be if they just stopped all the drink and drugs. Oh, right, not clever enough not to start on them, well never mind.
By the time that the 'I' of the title is having to fast-talk his way out of getting raped - a situation that is in part the consequence of Withnail's inability to grasp the complexity of lying to others - there can be no doubt which of these two anti-heroes is the slightly less messed-up one.
Mind you, he does also miss the option of just sleeping in his locked car…
It might sound like I didn't like this film - I did. While neither grotesque is one that can be warmed to, Withnail's half-brained shallowness is entertaining throughout. All that talking that I mentioned keeps the tone relaxed, and the plot is very simple to follow, giving us a chance to go on the geographical journey with them, if not the emotional one.
While visually there is plenty of detail in their world, not much of it is worth looking at. Even the location work is dreary, and hardly reminiscent of its settings of London and Penrith, yet its dreariness is the point. We just can't wait for I to break away from Withnail's gravity and realise some of his life's potential. Much of the film is dubbed also. It's all been put together rather roughly.
Overall, I'm not quite sure why this 1986 outing has become such a classic. It could be because of the drugs (which would be a rubbish reason), or its gay content (also a rubbish reason), or maybe just because these days there are so few other films slow enough to let the audience relax and, if you'll excuse the expression, drink in the movie. (unquestionably the rubbishest reason)
But hey, why does there have to be an explanation? While Withnail And I's content might not be my cup of lighter fluid, it's refreshing to spend a couple of hours able to clearly see and hear what's going on in a movie for a change.
Even though that definitely doesn't help one to identify with either character.