This film would probably make more money if they renamed it Withnail and I: The Pensioner Years, because that’s what it most closely resembles when it’s good. Maurice (Peter O’Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips) are a couple of veteran actors who spend their decrepitude drinking, bitching and visiting the theatre. Their world is turned upside down when Ian’s hateful, shallow, troublesome niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) comes to stay, and Maurice finds himself falling for her brash northern charms.
This perverse and occasionally very touching character study has a superb pedigree, with Hanif Kureishi on script duty, the always dependable Roger Mitchell (The Mother, Enduring Love) at the helm and (the mighty O’Toole and Phillips aside, who both give exceptionally good performances) there’s even Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Griffiths in well defined support roles. So why isn’t it totally successful? Well, Kureishi may be a past master at middle-class ennui but he certainly can’t write teenage roles to save his life. The character of Jessie is so turgid and unbelievable that just watching her brings on human shrinkage and, unfortunately, TV star Whittaker is less than capable of making anything of this meagre meal. A real waste.