Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | May 9, 2008

The Nobility of Failure

If you are a fan of the film Withnail and I, have a listen to Sue MacGregor reuniting the cast and the director. You can hear it on the BBC Radio 4 website – look for ‘Reunion’ on the right-hand menu.
The production company tried to shut it down while it was being filmed about 20 years ago – because they thought it wasn’t funny and would fail, but it has achieved cult status, with people watching it over and over again and knowing much of the script by heart.
It is a fabulous film that captures so well that era in Britain, and listening to the radio programme helped me to understand why I like it so much. One of the actors put his finger on it when he said that ‘spiritual nobility’ shines through it. When Richard E.Grant was asked what this could mean, given the grimy storyline and setting, he explained that the film was ‘gloriously British’ because it portrayed the ‘nobility of failure’. That’s it! The film is about failure and hopelessness and yet thanks to the ‘conspiracy of talent’ which created it, it shines.

Responses

  1. It’s a wonderful film. First time I saw it, I was an unemployed singer and had been living in a series of grim bedsits for years. Everyone who has ever lived on the fringes with frustrated artistic aspirations can recognise those characters! I am a real fan of Bruce Robinson – he has that brilliant knack of being able to make you laugh but also make you feel deeply. For me, comedy is at its best when it does this. I love ‘Steptoe and Son’ – I find it hard not to want to cry at least once throughout each episode. ‘Withnail and I’ has that same pathos. His novel ‘The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman’ had quite an impact on me too.


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