Plunkett and Macleane is a drama taking us back to a time of Georgian greed and debauchery with the hardened but entertaining characters of playboy James Macleane, (Jonny Lee Miller) and William Plunkett (Robert Carlyle),who according to history between them committed around twenty highway robberies within a six month spree of terror against England’s wealthy society.
The production is loosely based on the real life of the foresaid Macleane, the son of a Presbyterian minister. On blowing his inheritance on fine clothes and prostitutes, Macleane enters London and after meeting up with Will Plunkett between them notch up a plan which begins their spree of highway robberies on the wealthy. Their intention is to gain enough cash to start a new life in America. Always courteous to his victims, Maclean was known throughout the country as `the gentlemen highwayman` and always popular with ladies everywhere.
This film has everything to be expected from a British drama based on the lives of highwaymen trying to dodge the hangman’s noose, but much more! Although not to be taken as completely historically correct in the way of language and mannerisms which verge on surrealism, it does give us authentic but outrageous costumes, and romance too.
Although historical sources lead us predominately to the life of James Maclane, Carlyle in his characterisation stands out amongst the rest of the cast with his screen presence within this production. Plunkett is the one who is control and the egotistical but buffoon like McCleane clearly becomes the side kick who could not pull off his reign of terror against the aristocracy without his counterpart.
The opening scene takes us to Knightsbridge debtor’s jail where Macleane resides for his sins. As Plunkett and a young accomplice, are hunted down his accomplice is shot dead by `General Chance` (Ken Stott), the evil which resides over the storyline and the second in command to the Lord Chief Justice (Michael Gambon). The character of `Chance` torments all other characters with ruthlessness and cruelty. At this point the commotion gives Maclean a chance to escape.
The story continues as Plunkett and Macleane work at retrieving a red ruby smuggled in the body of the original partner of Plunkett. A scene of guts and gore the ruby is to eventually become their salvation. It is used as bribery to be released when they are caught and sent to Newgate prison where, we find that what contributes to this production making things a lot more exciting, is the cotemporary musical influence including the lyrics `you’re going to Hell` by `The tiger lilies`. This gives us tongue in cheek humour surrounding the ridiculous and barbaric methods of criminal punishment in the Georgian era.
After bribing their way out of Newgate the two vagabonds continue with their plans to gain riches and flee England, that is until Macleane falls in love with the head strong lady Rebecca Gibson (Liv Tyler). Lady Rebecca is another magnetic character in this entertaining scenario. Tyler is well cast with her distinctive and elegant features and draws us further into the storyline with a good representation of a lady of strength, intelligence and loyalty.
At one point diverting out of the Georgian era, this production thrusts upon us a character which reminds us of the elaborate and controversial character Boy George of the 1980`s musical reign of revived eccentricity, in the form of Lord Rochester (Alan Cumming). Although, as we know, both eras are often portrayed as the height of English foppishness and elaborate fashion, this is a severe contrast within the film. This may surprise and be rejected by some as being over the top within this genre; however to most it will appear entertaining and to work creatively well. Also as a contemporary measure within the film, we are subject to modern, often crude language, however, this is not inappropriate within the content and does not take away any of the films gripping drama. All this spontaneity and creativity add to the aesthetics of the production bringing a welcome relief to the sometimes humdrum of Georgian based British productions of the past.
`Plunkett and Macleane` has often had less than complimentary reviews but the trick is just to sit back and enjoy. For those with an open mind and who love a good drama with added extras, this film is a must! It is a production which makes us laugh, but which also makes us catch our breath in suspense at a storyline presented with both historical and creative contemporary techniques. This film promises to deliver good entertainment.
Michelle Ross (Fagin’s girl)