I’ve worked as a film business journalist from more than 15 years so the question always comes up. What’s your favourite film? Weirdly, it’s a question I’ve never asked any of the stars, directors or talent working in film I have interviewed.
But I always ask if people have seen my go to answer.
Withnail and I, written and directed by Bruce Robinson, is perfect for so many reasons; not least for its quotability, the drinking with panache and its honest portrayal of friendship, melancholy and mirth.
I used to carry a DVD copy in my luggage when attending film festivals just in case I stumbled across someone who hadn’t seen the 1987 British cult classic centring around the friendship of two out of work actors; and who might be worthy of being given a copy.
In all those years I only ever gave away one copy. So many ended up not being worthy. But there was one.
I know I risk sounding mauve (thank you Uncle Monty) but my moment came when I literally bumped into the legendary Mr Bill Murray in the foyer of a hotel in Cannes.
Murray was taking a break from his round robin panels with foreign press representatives to discuss his role in a film playing during the festival.
With no publicist in sight we talked Scotland, golf, fishing in burns (small rivers) and the tiring treadmill of being asked the same questions over and over again. (Why did you take the role, Mr Murray? Because I was offered it, doh). And very briefly we talked comedy, pathos and timing.
And so I asked him. The man who had been in Scrooged, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. And no, he hadn’t.
I scurried off and returned five minutes later clutching a copy of Withnail and I to give to one of the world’s biggest comedy film stars. He was mildly bemused in a very Bill Murray way. But he took it, promising me he would watch it and let me know what he thought.
It’s no surprise that I didn’t hear back from him. At least I am able to tell people I had a Murray moment when I gave him a copy of Withnail and I.
I also appeared on a television documentary about British cult films to offer my insight into Withnail and I and its societal and cultural influence.
Well, I say that. It was in actual fact to trumpet the drinking game that Withnail and I fans embrace. The one where a group (hopefully not just a lone viewer) matches their drinks and recites much of the eminently quotable lines from it while imbibing.
My very own Withnail to my Marwood rocked up at a public hostelry in Soho at 9 am one winter morning to drink cider, ice in the cider, smoke and talk to camera. My companion and I embraced the opportunity for unlicensed libations (free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t) and extolled the virtues of the film and its liquid celebrations.
Did we want a cuppa tea? Nooooooooooo.
When asked to sum up our thoughts by the filmmakers, my friend wisely noted that if one was to try and match Withnail and I’s intake in the film while watching it, one would likely end up dead. And, or I in the hospital, came my rejoinder.
I’ve also been lucky enough to meet Richard E. Grant a couple of times as part of my “professional” life as a film and television journalist. He is a colossus of charm and didn’t blink when I asked him to write “Stuart, you terrible cunt” in my notebook.
I remain a follower of Grant’s career and tweets.
I also managed to grab a brief audience with the brilliant Richard Griffiths at a cocktail reception in Los Angeles. He agreed to calling me a cunt too, albeit in his hushed, non-theatrical voice, as we were taking fine wines at the British Consulate General’s house.
So while there are hundreds of film badges on my own Memory Pop, Withnail and I is the most important. There have been and continue to be many occasions for which a fitting Withnail and I quote can be deployed.
Especially when I feel like a pig shat in my head.