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Friday Film Review: Plunkett and Macleane

Plunkett and Macleane (1999)
Genre: historical action/adventure, romance
Grade B

Thanks to everyone who recommended this during the discussion of “The Abduction Club.” I’d never heard of it before and frankly wonder how much theater time, if any, it got in the US when it was released in 1999. I also wonder how many people would have liked it if they’d seen it since it’s so ‘out there.’ More on that later.

Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) and Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) are two highwaymen in 1748 England. Macleane, who’s a gentleman fallen on hard times, dresses up and attends society events, staying on the lookout for anyone who’s won a great deal of money at cards that night. He tries to find out when said winner will be leaving and the general direction the winner will take home. Then he and Plunkett, a former apothecary, lie in wait and rob the person.

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All is going fairly well until Macleane meets Lady Rebecca (Liv Tyler) and falls head over heels in love. He can’t help discussing the “Gentlemen Highwaymen” who robbed her and her uncle/guardian, the corrupt Lord Gibson (Michael Gambon) with her and we see that her interest in him is greater than is healthy for a man trying to stay this side of the hangman’s noose.

For political reasons as well as personal, Lord Gibson is determined to have these two caught and sets his dirty dogsbody Chance (Ken Stott) on the job. But Chance has plans of his own and manages to catch Macleane. Can Lady Rebecca and Plunkett free Macleane before he swings at Tyburn?

For all interested in this movie be forewarned that it’s not the typical romantic swashbuckling movie of yore. It’s got dirt, grime, manure, eye gouging, wild colored powdered wigs, hanged men, public – or very nearly so – fucking, language and anachronisms galore. Oh, and a hero infected with the pox. It’s also a lot of fun.

Though I enjoyed both Carlyle and Miller in their roles, and think they did a good job with them, hands down my favorite character is Lord Rochester played with flair and verve by Alan Cumming. If dandies didn’t dress in fuschia colored hats with stripped coats ‘back in the day’ -and I realize they couldn’t have as the color dye wasn’t invented then – they should have. As far as I’m concerned, he steals almost every scene he’s in.

Liv Tyler does a creditable job as well and looks gorgeous in the violet blue dress someone had the foresight to put her in. It’s too bad her role isn’t more than it is. Michael Gambon is, as usual, in top form while Ken Sott oozes evil from every pore. There are some nice cameos by Nicholas Farrell and Caroline Quentin (of “Blue Murder” fame).

Like the later film “Marie Antoinette,” this film makes use of contemporary music in place of period pieces. It’s also got two fops sounding like they’re straight out of a frat movie. And somehow, this all works and makes sense. The arguments I’ve heard in favor of Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” could be used here as well. The music makes the film sound as contemporary to us as period music would have made it sound contemporary to them. As well, a more modern style of dancing and speaking do the same. Whether or not you believe this or think it utter crap, the music works surprisingly well for me.

Another issue is that the main characters are based on actual people whose endings didn’t turn out quite as well. This doesn’t bother me but I wonder why even use the real people’s names if you’re going to change so much about their lives? Another squick issue for me is that regardless of the fact that Plunkett is supposed to be a former apothecary and that he swears by his “Plunkett’s Patented Cure for the Pox,” there was no cure for it then and if Macleane really has it, he’s fucking doomed. Pun intended.

But, issues aside, I’m glad I watched this and not sorry I went out and bought my own copy of the VHS tape. The DVD is currently out of print and selling for a pretty shilling online. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth that amount of money. It’s been uploaded to youtube in 10 installments by some kind soul so anyone can try it out for free. As long as you don’t go looking for a plot with a lot of substance, and are prepared for some early squeamishy violence, it’s something to see. B


FTC discloser – I bought this with my own money.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2010 @ 09:21:04

    I LOVE this film. Saw it in the theatre. Own it on DVD. That said, it is a bit of an odd duck . . .

    When the costumes are good, they’re fantastic. When they’re bad, they’re over the top (Alan Cumming’s for example).

  2. Jayne
    Jan 15, 2010 @ 09:27:13

    “Odd duck.” Yep, that about covers it. I’d love to see it with director’s commentary

  3. Joanne Renaud
    Jan 15, 2010 @ 09:59:31

    I saw this when it came out, on the recommendation of a classmate. But I really didn’t like the film at all, even though I love Craig Armstrong’s music. It just felt like a mess to me.

    But hey, a least I hated it less than Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.”

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  5. Estelle
    Jan 15, 2010 @ 15:25:24

    I’m glad you reviewed this movie. It’s one of my favorites and I love the music and the fact that it’s so out there.

    Needless to say that Rochester is my favorite character too.

    I’d read somewhere that, originally, it was Lyv Tyler’s character that was supposed to be the bandit. She was actually supposed to be the lead. But things took a 180° turn and ended up in the P&M movie. IIRC, Liv was filming Lord of the Rings at the time and didn’t have enough time to be the lead in another movie. I don’t know if any of this is accurate though.

    The French release got the title of “Guns 1748”, which I like better than “P&M”. It tells you right from the start that it’s going to be an odball of a movie.

  6. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2010 @ 16:28:36

    I love the music

    The Tiger Lillies!!! I’ve seen them perform a bunch of times and I just adore them!!! Last time they were here in San Francisco there was an earthquake mid-performace (just a little 3 or 4 shaker). It was awesome. They didn’t even pause.

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