Sunday, 29 November 2015

Plenty (1985)

"The film is called Plenty because it describes a rise and fall. The years of austerity in the late forties are followed by the years of plenty in the mid-fifties, and it's a recurring feeling in the film that it is money that rots people. It was possible to just rise on the great bubble of wealth after the war, and that's just what the characters in the film do." ~ David Hare

I'm an admirer of David Hare's work but I feel much is lost in transferring his 1978 play Plenty from the stage to the big screen. It really isn't helped that Meryl Streep is totally miscast in the lead role; a touch of '80s Hollywood parachuted in (like the SOE operatives at the start of Fred Schepisi's adaptation) to this distinctly British affair. It is clear that she simply cannot convey the complexities required of the central character at this stage in her career and she is caught 'acting' throughout. 

Hare's story was inspired by the fact that many women involved first hand with the war found civilian life in peace time deeply unsatisfying, with divorce being especially rife. 

Streep sars as Susan Traherne who we meet as a young British courier for the SOE in Nazi-occupied France (and kudos to Schepisi for introducing his photogenic star with a striking introductory shot, her sharp long nose, high cheekbones and wide, soulful eyes being picked out by torchlight as she and her fellow operatives wait for a parachuting agent, played by Sam Neill, to land) Invigorated by the adventure of her work, but fearful of the repercussions, Susan and Neill's agent, 'Lazar' spend a passionate evening together, like ships that pass in the night, but which we shall see builds in meaning for Susan in the years to come.

After the war, Susan meets by chance Raymond Brock (Charles Dance), a diplomat at the British embassy in Brussels and the pair soon fall in love, with Brock spending his weekends at Susan's flat, which she shares with Tracey Ullman's bohemian live wire Alice, in drab post war London.

It's the stultifying nature of peacetime that makes Susan restless. She wants a child, but she no longer wants Brock. Enter spiv Mick (Sting - dreadful as always) who she chooses to be her sperm donor, without counting on Mick's growing feelings for her. Feeling trapped, Susan has a breakdown and is subsequently rescued by the return of Brock, the pair are married and he is posted to Jordan, but even that isn't satisfactory for Susan and she returns to England desperate to reconnect with her wartime experiences. She reunites with 'Lazar' and the pair try to replicate their one night of passion in a seedy seaside hotel, only to find they cannot recapture the excitement and romance of the past.

Obviously Plenty is a deeply ironic piece; the era in which, according to British PM, Macmillan, we had 'never had it so good', Susan experiences all the materialistic success but nothing speaks to her heart and we slowly come to realise that at that very heart she is actually capable of being a very cruel and bitter individual. It's a hard character to convey and Streep struggles to gain our sympathy or explore the inherent light and shade to her character with her rather soulless performance. It's not helped by Schepisi's own poor grasp on the material either. It's only positive is that it all looks rather nice, but it is quite the yawnfest which wastes an accomplished cast that includes John Gielgud, Ian McKellen and, briefly, Hugh Laurie.

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