I take as my text today the script of Withnail and I: yes, all of it – for as I have so consistently pointed out the entire film is basically a collection of quotes linked by a somewhat haphazard plot.
But my subject this morning is not the film per se, but the Facebook group. It is my contention that The Withnail and I Appreciation Society is one of the healthiest groups on social media. Why? Because it allows people to hurl the most terrible insults at each other with impunity. When someone calls me a terrible c**t, I chuckle; when a man declares that he means to have me even if it must be burglary, I laugh uproariously and when people ‘feel unusual’ I’m not a bit spooked. Because the film licences this rudeness, which is not about the person you’re talking to but about your shared enjoyment of the film. And this is very healthy I think.
This is what happens: people post pictures, memes and links to news stories on which to hang their references to the film. And because the film has a thousand and one quotable bits, it just keeps on going. As a youth I used to weep in butcher’s shops. I’ve only just begun to grow last year. The joint I am about to roll can utilise up to twelve skins. It is called the Camberwell Carrot. This will tend to make you very high. Bollocks, I’ll swallow it and run a mile. That wouldn’t wash with Geoff. Imagine getting into a fight with the f***er.
It’s not all insults: you can offer sherry, fulminate about cats or eulogise root vegetables. You can talk about garlic, rosemary and salt or good quality rubber boots; you can tell Miss Blennerhasset to call the police or demand the finest wines known to humanity. You can even go on holiday by mistake.
The film ends with a soliloquy from hamlet, another play that’s full of quotable bits. Though Hamlet isn’t quite as funny…