Reviews

Plunkett&Maclean

4

After a rip-roaring robbery at a high-society wedding, Captain James Macleane declares: "'I was fabulous and it was a bloody good laugh'. But he could just as easily have been describing Plunkett & Macleane itself, which is nothing less than a shamelessly fun, swashbuckling Brit-flick.

When a director with a background in music videos and commercials helms a period flick, he's bound to end up with something distinctive - and Jake Scott's first feature succeeds simply because it never takes itself too seriously. It has all the ingredients of a classic costume romp (massive wigs, pistols at dawn, heaving bosoms a-plenty), but Scott gives it a deliberate contemporary slant. "Did they mean to do that?" you'll wonder, when you notice the Phil and Grant Mitchell-style cockney fops, pierced eyebrows, and techno thumps at the grand ball. But cotton on to the fact that Plunkett&Macleane has one foot in the 18th century and the other planted firmly in the late 1990s, and you can just sit back, enjoy and stop worrying about anachronisms.

The impressive first 10 minutes (Plunkett meets Macleane) grab your attention like a musket in the face, involving a runaway stagecoach, the disembowelling of a corpse and a good Olde Englande shoote oute. Boisterous, deafening and gruesome, it all bodes well for the next 90 minutes. But don't expect constant action: there's a flow of (fairly) civilised conversation in-between all the highway drama.

For Plunkett & Macleane's strongest when playing up its humour. Unexpected but successful, it encourages the perfect alliance between the two leads: Carlyle is earthy as highwayman Plunkett, a lawless ruffian who just wants to escape to America; Miller, as Macleane, is the flamboyant, well-connected gentleman, charming lords and ladies at society gatherings, before he and Plunkett force them to stand and deliver. As Begbie and Sick Boy in Trainspotting, Carlyle and Miller didn't produce significant chemistry; here, their partnership is the main asset.

Alan Cumming's screamingly camp Lord Rochester delivers some classic one-liners ("'Darling, I swing every way!'), and provides light relief from the malevolent figure of doom, Thief-Taker General Chance (Ken Stott). Liv Tyler, meanwhile, is the token fair maiden, with a convincing English accent and magnificent jumping jugs. Wilful and defiant as the rebellious niece of Lord Chief Justice Gibson, she's more spirited than demure, but you can't help but notice the dark circles under her "rescue me" doe-eyes, possibly due to too many late nights with her voice coach.

Overlook the thin plot (they rob the rich and, er, that's it), and it's easy to revel in Plunkett & Macleane's vigour and lust for the lustiest of lives. And like Shakespeare In Love, it's proof that English frock dramas don't have to involve plummy accents and constant audience clock-watching.

Verdict:

A wonderfully rousing romp along the 18th-century highways and byways. Part costume drama, part action adventure, this is a stylish, humorous flick that deliberately flouts the rules of historical accuracy with shocks, frocks and dozens of smoking flintlocks.

Film Details

  • 15
  • UK Theatrical Release Date: April 2nd 1999

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