Plunkett & Macleane appeared on its face to be a period piece about highwaymen robbing the rich in Eighteenth Century England. I was in the mood for a decent period piece and this film seemed like it would fit the bill. It was nothing close to what I expected. That is not to say it was bad, but it was not a period piece. It was an eclectic surreal mess, that was modestly appealing in its confused identity.
The film started normal enough, with a bit of eighteenth century action that introduces us to the title characters. We are introduced to Captain Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) as he is sentenced to debtor's prison. Macleane is serving his time when a carriage comes crashing through his door. He witnesses a robbery followed by the unsightly dispatch of a highwayman at the hands (or more literally, thumbs) of a rising politician named Chance (Ken Stott). Macleane is later joined by the surviving highwayman, Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) who desires a gem that was ingested by his former partner in crime (Rob, played by Lain Robertson). Considering that gem is inside Rob, who is inside his fresh grave, somebody has to retrieve it. That is accomplished by Macleane (at gunpoint). The grave-robbers are quickly rounded up by the local neighborhood watch and sentenced to another prison.
Upon arrival at their new place of incarceration, I began to notice the departure from traditional period pieces. The prison was divided into an area for commoners and an area for gentlemen, two starkly contrasting environments that illuminates the class system of that period. As we examine the gentleman's prison more closely, something seems a little out of place. Primarily, it did not seem like a prison at all. It looked like a giant men's club where gambling, sex and gluttony all prevailed. While Macleane sows his oats, Plunkett carefully crafts a plan for relieving the ruling class of their possessions...and this prison provides a perfect rumor mill for Plunkett to exploit. After retrieving his gem after it was once again ingested, Plunkett bids Macleane to earn their release, which he does. The two attempt to part ways, but end up in a mutually beneficial agreement.
Another aspect of this film that first stood out during the prison scene was the soundtrack. Most period pieces from this era would have typical Victorian music...or if tied more closely to this specific era, possibly oratorios from Handel or Bach. Instead, we are treated to phantasmagorical dramatic elements supported with an equally surreal soundtrack. The punkish mood music was written by Craig Armstrong and Martyn Jacques and preformed by The Tiger Lilies or Craig Armstrong. I am not familiar with the musicians but enjoyed a few of the musical romps.
The insanity of this film is furthered through incredible costumes. Where most films of this period might opt for more subtle colors and boring accoutrements. Plunkett & Macleane takes a more vibrant approach. Electric blues, bright purples and many other gaudy colors make a few of the characters appear larger than life. The most flamboyant being the bi-sexual Rochester (Alan Cumming) who comes complete with excessive make-up and a pierced eyebrow. Cumming actually created an anachronistic bright spot in the film that was sort of fun to watch. The costume bordered on insane at times giving the film a stage play feel. It made a film that could easily have been boring at least enjoyable (and average).
Plunkett & Macleane was far from exceptional. However, it was delightfully different. The anachronisms were gimmicky, but added to the story. If not for the soundtrack, costumes and other surreal aspects of this film it would have been a very simplistic period piece lacking any real meat. The story itself was hackneyed. The dialogue combined with the other elements mentioned elevated the film beyond forgettable. However, this film was far from exceptional. With a better story and pacing, this film might have eked out a solid recommendation. Definitely rainy day material as is. 6.5/10.
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