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Plenty

Plenty is based on the acclaimed play by David Hare who also wrote the screenplay. (Am I petty for noticing that the writer's credit comes before two sets of producer credits as well as the director, and that the fact that the movie is based on a play is left until the end titles?)

Susan Traherne was a British Special Operations spy in France during World War 2. The movie recounts a memorable encounter she had in France then jumps forward several years at a time as the complex, damaged, lost Traherne adjusts to post-war life.

It didn't become obvious to me until the very last scene, but like the eponymous little Chinese seamstress Traherne represents a country not just a person. I have to admit the nuances of the play's themes, as well as some of the historical milestones (eg the role of Great Britain in the Suez Canal) escape me, but that doesn't worry me overly as I believe a film has to be judged on its artistic merits before its polemical ones. And as a character drama Plenty works very well. As a movie it's very well constructed, except for a confusing cut late in the piece which at first seems like a flashback but is actually a flashforward. Maybe that was intentional, but if so I didn't see the purpose of the ambiguity.

In contrast to Postcards from the Edge Meryl Streep's performance in Plenty is unmarked by any trademark mannerisms. It might be because at the time (1985) she hadn't developed them yet, but I actually think it's the accent. She not only sounds properly British, the tenor of her voice changes completely, and so her character. She's fantastic, especially in the later, more intense scenes.

The supporting cast which includes Charles Dance, Tracy Ullman (in an essentially dramatic, if somewhat zany role), Sting and John Gielgud are very good as well. Special mention of Ian McKellan in a late, piercing cameo. On the other hand, Sam Neill is supposed to play a crucial character in Suzanne's life, but I didn't find him very memorable.

Some play-to-film adaptations feel very stagey. Plenty does too, but only in the eloquence of the dialogue. Otherwise Hare and director Fred Schepisi have done a good job of opening the film up.

On a note unrelated to the review - I had a vague but persistent memory of seeing this play on stage, the dialogue in the opening scene was very familiar for instance - but couldn't find a programme to support this notion. Finally I realised that I actually started to read the play some years ago and that my mind filled in the details of set, sound effects and actors. Weird.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 14, 2005 12:13 AM.

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