Whatever happened to Withnail? (update)

withnail.jpg
“…even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day…”
For reasons more complex than Withnail’s urine sample, this particular shitegeist entry has proven hugely popular and has drawn some wonderful comments. We’d like to encourage you to add some more…


So, there I am, sitting at home, eating a bowl of peanuts and staring ruefully in the mirror at the patches of grey which are beginning to sprout on my temples. After some protracted moping around and generally wondering what has happened to all my hopes and dreams, goals and aspirations and general will to live, I finally decided that I needed cheering up. My Blackadder videos are in Dublin, so I put on the next best thing – my copy of Withnail and I.

Now, as the legion of Withnail fans will attest, this particular movie has always had (for me at least) a sort of medicinal property. No matter what is going on, no matter how miserable I am, no matter how self-pitying my miasma, this movie always manages to make me laugh. Each time I watch it, I get something new from it. Whether it be some manic facial gesture of Richard E. Grant’s , some half-baked philosophical rumination of the narrator known simply as ‘I’, or some absurd eccentric observation by the brilliant Monty I always find myself stunned by the perfect comic/tragic writing. You can read the script here.

But, last night something struck me. There is a profoundly sad scene at the end of the movie which sees Withnail standing in a rain-lashed public park, giving a moving rendition of a soliloquy from Hamlet, his only audience a lone caged wolf and the empty park benches. As the music plays and the credits roll, we are witness to Withnail’s long and lonely walk back across the park. His best friend is gone. Gone to Manchester for his new acting role. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that they will never see each other again. Or will they?

What interests me about that final shot, is that is quite deliberately allows us to see Withnail disappearing into the distance, his great gangly frame becoming ever smaller and smaller, drowned in a mist of torrential rain. It is an image that begs the question: what did he do next?

So, answers in a comment please, which you can enter below. What ever happened to Withnail? Did he ever get his cigar commercial? Did he ever get to play the Dane? Did Withnail drink himself to death? Did he go into business with Danny? Was presuming Ed back in the bath when he got home? What do you think? Let’s be having ye…


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damien
Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.

70 comments

  1. Wasn’t he in ‘Jack & Sarah’?

    A trained actor reduced to the status of a bum indeed.

  2. On the DVD Robinson says that there was a guy he knew called Jonathan Withnail. What happened to him is unclear.

    Someone else mailed me to say: “Withnail was based on Bruce Robinson’s best friend from drama school, Vivien MacMillan (I think that’s his surname). This larger-than-life hedonistic thespian died of throat cancer in his early 40s.

    Robinson was quoted as saying “I could never believe that the biggest coward I’d ever met could become the bravest man I have ever seen in so short a space of time. They ripped his voice out.”

    This is tragic and true. But you did ask.”

  3. As far as I remember the comment about Vivian related above is true, from one or two bruce robinson interviews I have seen over the years…..so much for using Withnail and I as an antidote to the middle age blues…..ah fuck, now Im freaked out, and its monday…….

  4. Well, I don’t know what heppened to the real Withnail, but obviously in the movie here is what happened: Withnail moved to California and starred in films like “LA Story”, “The Player”, and Coppola’s “Dracula”. The “I” chraracter stayed in England and retained his Englishness to portray the mad inmate of an off-world prison colony, a time-traveling wearer of outdated but fabulous men’s fashions, and a scholarly investigator of the paranormal.

  5. Withnail the character is named after Jonathan Withnall (sic?), Bruce Robinson’s childhood hero who backed an Aston Martin into a police car on leaving a pub car park, apparently. [Ref: C4 documentary 1998]
    Withnail’s lifestyle, attitude, drinking, failed thespianism etc is from Robinson’s 60s pal, Viv MacKerrall (sic?), who had merely a few butler/spear carrier type roles after graduating with Bruce from Central School of Speech & Drama. [Ditto ref.]
    In the film, W. says in the first Regent’s Park walk ‘I’m thirty in a month…’, ie in October 1969. If there is strict correspondence between W. & MacKerrall, the latter would have been about 56 when he died of throat cancer c.1995. [Ref: BR’s intro to book of screenplay, Bloomsbury; 1996?]
    Regarding ‘Whatever happened to Withnail?’, I should think he probably returned to the flat, his despair, his hopes of RSC/TV/cigar commercials, & then ponced off his estranged family (especially Monty), until finally being reduced to the status of a true bum, & maybe ending up joining the w*nk*rs on the site…

  6. Apparently, when Vivian Mackerrall had had his throat removed because of the cancer, he had to be fed through a tube which ran directly into his stomach. Towards the end, he was pouring brandy into it by way of a funnel.
    As far as the film is concerned, a more abrupt ending was shot, which depicted Withnail returning from the park and, having polished off the ’53 Margaux, blowing his brains out with a shotgun. I think that these two incidental details serve to make the film very sad indeed.

  7. Yes, the whole Withnail/MacKerrall scenario is tragic, but I think Robinson was dead right to stick with the ending as it stands! It recalls invertedly, perhaps, the end of The Third Man, which is a similarly lenghty shot & poignant idea of parting & leaving. I’m not sure if the shotgun suicide version was ever actually shot (!), merely written initially, then binned.
    Anyone else know anything interesting about this stuff?

  8. Sorry to go on, but can anyone tell me just why I/Marwood says ‘You’d lose a leg!’ after Withnail scorns the fact that M. would have to have his hair cut, should he get his rep. role?
    [They’re in the pub in Penrith, phoning agents & spending Monty’s fivers before raiding the tearooms for cake, tea & the finest wines available to humanity.]
    This sounds like a thespy good luck joke of the break-a-leg/Macbeth kind, but I can’t quite see the relevance of actually losing a leg.
    The play in question, Journey’s End (1928-ish, a WW1 drama), we see M. reading just before Farmer Parkin arrives with the logs & chicken early in the cottage sojourn.
    There are no amputations/dismemberments etc in it as far as I recall, although the soldier theme connects with Withnail’s assumed soldierly deportment & bullsh*ttng the local landlord about his territorials record in Ireland, of course.
    The ‘hero’ of J.’s End (Stanhope, played first by Olivier) is, like Withnail, an upper-crust alcoholic with little future, potentially.
    Marwood’s winning of the lead role in this rep. performance of the play- the cause of his leaving London & Withnail for Manchester- obviously suggests the fact that he/Robinson is the real lead/hero in the film itself & perhaps in life, too! Director’s poetic justice, or what?
    Anyway, the leg: ideas?

  9. Danny can be seen under his homo-pseudonym of Miami Vice in the TV show ‘Lock, Stock’, married to a very different Ed. Presuming Ed had a sex change in 1986 and the two were wed in the early nineties, after a few hiccups. They now have eight children, 3 dogs and a goat, they live in a cottage in a village high in the lake district. Apparently ‘Presuming Edwina’ is still a Hare Krishna and regularly cooks lentils for the local homeless.

  10. Another tease: what are the first names of Withnail & I?
    I’ve seen a review referring to PETER Marwood, although his surname appears merely in the screenplay text as character ID but not in any dialogue, & ‘Peter’ is certainly nowhere to be found.
    W.’s is presumably something similar to/part-anagrammatic of Desmond Wolfe or Donald Twain, his ideas for a new stage name- but what?

  11. Absurder & more ridiculous: how does Monty’s radish badge manage to migrate from his right to left lapel (I think!) some time between dropping off the pair at the pub in Penrith & their return to the cottage? Sack the continuity girl, or is there a subtle point being made far too obliquely???

  12. Marwood’s books: he stuffs Huysman’s A Rebours/Against Nature & another into his suitcase at the end of the film. What is this other- a Hardy novel of rustic degradation or similar?

  13. Incidentally, the copies of these books, especially the covers, are anachronistic: mid-Eighties Penguins masquerading as 1960s material…Ditto some other items like Guinness bottles, spaghetti tins, lighter fuel (? I’ve no idea, really!)…There’s also a bit of a lack of authentic 60s memorabilia/detail/Zeitgeist, except the tunes- but, what the hell! IT WORKS!!!

  14. Marwood & the bull etc: does Paul McGann do his own ‘stunt’ here? It looks like it, although there’s not a lot of man v bull same-shot action or contact!
    I vaguely remember something said about this in REG’s With Nails 1996 diary account, but it was probably merely that the executive producer wanted to cut the scene & close down the movie…
    Any truth either in REG’s idea that the chicken was killed & eaten after its star turn on the table in the cottage?

  15. Is Marwood’s other book The Darling Buds of May, the H.E.Bates novel which he says he’s read? This would connect Pop Larkin & Farmer Parkin, surely!

  16. i got to ask Richard E Grant this question when he appeared on the late late show. tragically, the mcmillan story is true. Robinson and Grant went to visit mcmillan before filming began and he agreed to entertain them provided they supplied him with whiskey. he died shortly after.

  17. Anyone ever tried drinking a bottle of wine under the shower while quoting that Hamlet bit?

  18. On reflection I also found Withnail and I very sad movie. That park scene really depressed me. However someone wrote a lovely story (it is posted on fanfiction.net in the Dr Who section) where Marwood and Withnail meet up, in a pub, and discuss their careers, get drunk and end up locked in a cellar. The funny bit is that by this time both of them have played Dr Who.

  19. Bruce Robinson has said that as a young man he was very good looking, and pursued by many aged homosexuals. It’s interesting that Marwood is reading A Rebours, the favourite book of a certain Dorian Gray.

  20. regarding robinsons’ youthful good looks: there is a moment in the movie (when a bespectacled marwood looks out the moving car at the wrecking ball) which i have heard (i think on the dvd) is the image of a young robinson…

  21. Methinks Bruce Robinson sometimes protests a little too much via Withnail & I, ie he WAS cast & played as Benvolio in Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo & Juliet, whilst still at drama school & presumably living the Albert Street lifestyle in spades. How much dosh did he get for it, & why then did he have to subsist there on one light bulb etc, as the stories go? Likewise, his liasion with Leslie-Anne Down around this time; she was the best-looking girl of the late 60s-early 70s! Comments?

  22. the original ending didn’t even have withnail accompanying marwood to regents park, instead he got monty’s shotgun and filled the barrel with the 53 margaux (that he wanted to drink with marwood as a “celebration”) and drinks the wine from the barrel and shoots himself.
    If you watch the film now and change the endind in your head everything has a far more tragic perspective.
    i suppose marwood is symbolising new beginnings and withnail an end of an era in that version.
    Does anyone think i might have a bit too much time on my hands? maybe i should take a holiday in the country.

  23. i forgot, the original would have ended with a freezeframe of withnail’s suicide.

  24. Well in regards to Muser, i have to say that maybe you do need a holiday with a descent man (layinator) as With nail and i is a classic and it is an offence to loyal fans to even think of changing the ending.

  25. that wasn’t changing the ending that was how it was originally written in the script, it was never filmed.

  26. bye i’m off to buy the finest wines available to humanity and some lighter fluid.

  27. By the by I think Mr.Thornberry is a delicate but serious soul and i couldn’t ever think of a world without him, Have you heard of THE PORNBERRY COLLECTION!!! It’s being posted to me all the time sickening stuff, you’ve got to watch out for that obscene foul mouthed sort of writing.

  28. Anyone know if the interior shot of the arrival-at-the-cottage (where Withnail ejaculates ‘Christ Almighty!…This a mistake, I tell you, a dreadful mistake’, & Marwood busies around with the fire & plumbing etc) is a direct day-for-night homage to the French director Francois Truffaut? Robinson worked with Truffaut in, I think, the early Seventies; Day For Night is one of T.’s classics; & the scene here is said to be a daytime shooting of a nighttime sequence.

  29. And barely a mention of the great Uncle Monty (based on the predatory Zeffirelli…)!
    Ironically, it’s Monty the only character with any sense whatsoever, as attested by his dinnertime speech and his rambling about Baudelaire in the hills.
    What I consider to be one of the funniest parts (unintentionally?) is when Monty quotes the French in his execrable English accent, he manages to make that particular poem (Un hemisphere dans une chevelure, for the interested) rhyme, whereas its one of Baudelaire’s *prose* poems, and therefore not supposed to. (Anyone who’s seen Truffaut’s film with Robinson will know his own accent was shite, and as for his acting….)

  30. The last correspondent has put the finger on it: W&I is essentially poetic prose from start to finish! As we know, almost every line is memorable & quotable, whether ludicrous, surreal or just plain abusive, but the dialogue doesn’t seem overwritten, contrived or pretentious (unless a character himself is being implicitly teased or made absurd, which each one is at various times).
    This is largely perhaps because the three protagonists move in a literary-dramatic milieu anyway, & it seems natural for them express themselves thus.
    Of course, BR has cleverly crafted this highly mannered technique. He has expressed admiration for Dickens in the past, but W&I is more reminiscent of the Joyce of Ulysses fame; cf.Daedalus & Mulligan etc.

  31. I don’t remember a character called Alprazolam in either W & I or Ulysses…in any work of any kind of fiction, in fact! So, ‘Balls! We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here, & we want them now!’…

  32. A strange thing: I saw Cold Mountain early this year- X9 so far!-, & it immediately reminded me of W & I!
    This is very odd, but makes some sense if one considers the use of animal imagery in each film & Man v Nature in general. Certainly, Ruby/Renee pulling the rooster’s head off in CM triggered the chicken scene in W & I!
    How many beasts feature in W & I, then? Chicken, bull (& cows?), trout, pheasants, eels, hare, stuffed croc/alligator (in Crow & Crag pub), wolves in park, dog on lead ditto, tearoom lapdogs, Monty’s cat, sheep (‘on those volcanoes’), ‘ducks going to Moscow’ (!), horses in fields (?), ‘pigs’ (‘Get in the back of the van!), er…
    Well, that’s just off the top of my head, & there must be more.

  33. …The Seagull (Chekov play for which Withnail declines to understudy), macaw in pic behind Marwood in cafe, ducks on wall in flat (?), &..er,…

  34. I cannot believe that W&I is exhausted in terms of meaningful comment, pompous pseudo-Lit.Crit analysis & wry insight…which suggests that you lazy f*ckers should rue the day when your inspiration finally fails you!

  35. How sad can we get- sadder than Withnail himself? How many times have you lot watched The Great Film? My own consumption runs at 161 in just over 5 years, I kid you not! (Yes, I count them…) Having said that, I haven’t seen it since June, & maybe only half a dozen times in the last year or so. The real obsession was 1999-2002- but now Renee Zellweger has taken me over! I think I can honestly say with Marwood ‘I’m not homosexual, Monty!’…

  36. The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
    And God fulfils Himself in many ways.
    [Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur- via Monty]
    So, where are you all? Noone’s thinking or talking about W&I anymore, it seems! It’s enough to make a sequel a good idea…NOT!

  37. I may not be a stopped clock telling the right time twice a day- but it seems I’m the only clock functioning in Withnailtime of September 1969!

  38. I imagine that if asked about TV cigar commercials, most people would remember one brand only. Right?
    So Withnail tells Monty that the Dane is a part he intends to play, but he doesn’t even get the Hamlet ad.
    Happiness is a film called Withnail & I.

  39. It is the only movie I’ve ever seen which makes me laugh every 30 seconds and that I don’t feel inclined to criticise.
    Seen it a meagre 5 times. Thought it was shite the first time though.
    Could you imagine being friends with these guys?!
    Is it just me or do other people get a headache when Withnail thinks a pig has has shat in his brain?
    I reckon ‘I’ would have eventually given up acting and become pretty conventional. He would do some voice overs etc, advertisements.
    Withnail would definitely not commit suicide! Totally not his style. He would have struggled a bit longer then given up and toed the family line. He is still an upper class prat who worries about the dinner service after all.
    I doubt they would still be friends today.
    But I don’t find the movie depressing. It’s like EAstenders – your own life can only look good by comparison.

  40. The best thing about smart alecks who make irrelevant postings is that nobody likes them or their opinions…’Scrubbers! Scrubbers!’

  41. I think that what Withnail did after Marwood’s departure and his speech to the wolves could never be as great as what he did before. With Marwood he could express himself at his very best, he had the best partner he could possibly have. They were made to be flatmates.
    Withnail’s life, after that, has surely been a sadder one…
    What he did next, i frankly don’t want to know.
    I wanna remember him the way he was in the countryside, fishnig trouts with a shotgun, ’cause he did need “something’s flesh!”…
    By the way, i’m italian and i had to watch the film 4 times before i fully understood the whole script. But my mission now will be to put italian subtitles on it, so that my fellow citizens can
    fully enjoy this masterpiece too!

  42. however, i totally agree with Scarlett’ point of view (posted november the 4th).
    Firstly, Withnail couldn’t have possibly committed suicide. He lacks the bollocks to do it after all.
    Secondly, it is very likely he eventually came back to his family. Scarlett’s observation about the dinner service is a very accurate one…

  43. the lad wouldn`t have topped himself.it wouldn`t have dawned on him to do such a thing.he would have smoked another carrot and arranged some more high-speed drinking.it`s what actors do.peter o`toole has lived for hundreds of years that way.terribly sad in the morning,just smashing by tea-time.we are all frauds without a clue.that`s what makes friends so important.they help perpetuate the lie.
    i must say that i havent seen the movie as many times as some but i have seen it enough times to laugh.and recommend it to those wanting some insight into englishness,as opposed to remains of the day or chitty-chitty bang-bang.

  44. Withnail would not have killed himself. The point about him is that he was acting ALL the time and so didn’t really need proper acting work. You must know someone like that if you think about it. If they’re good they are great company if they are bad they are a pain.

  45. Whatever happened to Vivian Mackerrell [sic]? I’m tired of seeing pages saying ‘died young’, when he must have been around 50-56 at death in 1995. (This is going on Bruce Robinson’s version of things.) Very little else can be found out about him on The ‘Net, though: a few refs only to theatre, film, TV (Edna the Inebriate Woman!), & no real life story pre- or post-Withnail era! Tragic isn’t the word…

  46. Go out and party with your best mates, make it a big one, a bingebender, stay out, walk up a hil or something, get more fucked up, go home, chill with some weed and nice strong booze, wait for the shit to stat wearing off and watch the movie…..

  47. Hello all.
    I appreciate that this thread was rather busy in 2004 and the last comment is in 2006, but hopefully web archeologists will discover this.
    Vivian MacKerrel is the inspiration for Withnail, but this was only announced after Vivian Mackerrel’s funeral.
    My girlfriend is Vivian MacKerrel’s niece, and the sole recipent of his will. It seems she decided as a teenager to get to know this black sheep of the family, and has many an amusing anecdote to tell.
    He was rather ill towards the end of his life, and only answered to ‘Dying Uncle Vivian’ and from all accounts was a most appallingly behaved rogue.
    He wrecked the flat he stayed in London (presumably the flat recreated in the film). After taking too many drugs he attacked the walls with a sledgehammer and made the flat structurally unsafe. This made him rather unpopular with the family, as their flat in London would now be worth a lot of money.
    My girlfriend also visited him in his cottage in the lake district ~ hence the lake district in the film.
    There are many wonderful anecdotes and yarns, but they really aren’t mine to tell. Maybe my good lady should write a book? The stories about Vivian MacKerrel’s mother (my girlfriend’s grandmother) alone would make a fine film… She even wrote a book under one of her names ‘Alithea Lawson’ about coping with stress!
    Hope some of this is of interest!
    Regards,
    Innes Smith

  48. Thanks for your entry, Innes.
    Please ask your g/friend to post more info.
    Good Day to you.

  49. I’ve just stumbled upon and only gotten half way through this thread and am almost reduced to tears at recalling what a dense and evocative film this is. God bless us all, everyone.

  50. here goes 4 anyone interested ihave not seen the film but he was a real character i lived with him as kid/young teenager for 5 years he was in arelationship with my mother He handled his drink well but yes he did drink 2 much 4 domestic bliss vivian was charasmatic funny good company and full of so much unfufilled potential.we lived in an old rented church property in notts with his all 2 numerous resting periods he took avery keen interest in gardening particularly medicinal herbs tucked away behind the corn on the cob he loved the local pub and even amongst the more stuffy locals became quite popular vivian was very keen on elvis and was in tears when he died reminding me the king has gone

  51. A book on Vivian MacKerrel is definitely in order!
    So good to hear some of the background to a fantastic character.

  52. According to the book, wihtnail commits suicide, by wiring a gun to a bottle of monty’s fine wine, and then shooting himself while drinking it…

  53. I knew Viv in 1987/8 when I lived in Nottingham. He lived then in a small terraced house in the Lenton area (I think).I went there a couple of times; once was when Bruno fought Tyson. We stayed up late listening to it on the radio. We used to go drinking regularly in the Malt Shovel in the city centre, especially saturday afternoons. He was a charming guy, great company, and I don’t remember him as a boorish alcy at all. He liked to get pissed but no more than the rest of us. They were happy days for me as a young graduate; I miss them, and Viv

  54. Another Lenton resident! I live there to this day, but sadly didn’t have the honour of Vivian’s acquaintance. I suppose I must have been a stuffy local.
    What fucker said that! I called your friend a ponce, and now I’m calling you one. Ponce!

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