I’m a sucker for a good period piece–and when that period piece combines a contemporary music score, action, comedy, and a stellar cast including Robert Carlyle, Liv Tyler, Alan Cumming and Michael Gambon, I’d be sure I was hallucinating if I wasn’t already drunk.
I’ve been a Carlyle fan since ‘The Full Monty,’ and I’ve seen a large body of his work, both mainstream (Goldeneye, Trainspotting) and off the beaten path (Go, Now; that one about the dancing academy whose name I have forgotten–I missed the one about talking dragons though). Carlyle plays Plunkett, a former-apothecary turned highwayman with an opportunistic eye and a pragmatist’s spirit; though he is excellent at robbing the wealthy English of the 1740’s setting, he sees his crime career as a means to an end: he wants to get enough money to leave England and move to America where he can make a new life for himself. His talents for chemistry are a nice flourish for his character, giving an otherwise violent and calculating man some depth.
MacLeane (Jonny Lee Miller) is a dapper former gentleman with a penchant for fancy vests and an absolute curse when it comes to games of chance–we meet him in the famous debtor’s prison and his crappy fortunes at cards and games don’t change much.With his connections, he is able to get into fancy dress parties (marvel at the hats! OH THE HATS!) and find out who is carrying obscene amounts of largesse, and when.
Liv Tyler, who I’d always thought was capable of more than the pretty-girl roles she wound up with, plays the Lady Rebecca, ward of the Chief Justice and a romantic interest for Maclean, although she herself is more interested in the Gentleman Highwayman, as he comes to be known.
The whole movie is a hoot–Carlyle is perfectly cast as a highwayman with a heart of gold with his soulful eyes and quick fists, and Miller as a debtor-turned-bandit with aspirations of nobility provides a compelling narrative. Alan Cumming appears as foppiest of the fops Lord Rochester, whose libertine attitude is only matched by the fantabulousness of his giant hats. This WAS the era of the Antoinette wig, after all, and giant wigs are ubiquitous. No little boats in them, though.
I have to admit, I love costume dramas with modernist spins on them. After all, any reproduction of history will be refracted through the modern filmmakers subjective viewpoint–why fight it? I find techno soundtracks or postmodern sounding quips less anachronistic to the film and more acknowledging of the inherently subjective nature of filmmaking. Within reason, it’s supposed to be entertainment, after all.
Though Plunkett and Maclean might have been intended as a historical drama, I found it to work well as an action film. Carlyle’s presence, and the presence of explosions and character actor Tommy Flanagan, with his renowned ‘Glasgow Smile’ facial scars, ups the butch level quite a bit.
I absolutely adore Flanagan, who’s been seen in films like Braveheart, Gladiator, Sin City, and others. Apparently the scars are from a mugging that nearly killed him–yet his friend Carlyle encouraged him to try acting anyway. Although relegated to various tough guy roles, I hold out hope he’ll be randomly cast as a kindergarten teacher or florist some day, assuming he’s cool with that. I just hate to imagine that the only scripts he gets are tough guy roles and he yearns to play the Queen’s gardener or something. You just never know with people.
Those kinds of scars–think of the character Kakihara from Ichi the Killer or The Joker–are known as a ‘Glasgow Smile.’ The victim’s mouth is cut open at the corners, then he’s kicked in the stomach so that the scars tear wide and are difficult to stitch shut, leaving the infamous ‘smile.’ Never underestimate some people’s drive to ruin another person’s life–you will always be disappointed.
Anyhoodle, Plunkett and Maclean is a grand old time. I remember seeing it when it came out in 1999 on home video and for some reason being disappointed–I remember it as ‘everyone dies’ for some reason. Even though it’s kind of spoilery to say so, the good guys do win, and the bad guys are punished in the version I saw last night. I have come up with a rule–if a movie’s over a decade old, spoilers are much less of a concern unless the movie has a major twist or something. I don’t think it makes anyone throw up their hands in disgust to know a film they are watching entirely for fun doesn’t end badly–but there I go underestimating people again.
For an added bonus, keep an eye out for cameos early on by David Walliams and Matt Lucas of Little Britain fame! Actually, I think they were extras as this point, but now that they are famous they made ‘cameos.’ I am hip to the lingo, yes?