When Plenty is not enough
By Chris Butterworth
, 22 Aug 2006
'Plenty' wraps a personal story and a political history around each other. Meryl Streep is a wartime secret agent in France,living in constant fear of discovery and death. She longs for the calm and prosperity that will come with the peace she and her lover are fighting for.
But she struggles to make that promise come true in postwar Britain.
She does well: she makes money in the new, expanding world of advertising, and makes a 'good' marriage to Charles Dance's diplomat, but none of this is enough.
A beautiful and aloof woman,she provokes passion in her lovers but always keeps something essential hidden in herself. On the outside, her life is a success, but on the inside she struggles to find something important enough to live by, once she's no longer being asked to die for a cause.
Her personal crisis comes as the British government embarks on its disastrous and dishonourable Suez invasion, and her character is torn apart. Her faithful and loving husband finds a way to keep his career and his marriage together, but we are forced to wonder whether the sacrifices the characters are making can be sustained, or are worth the high cost they exact. Until the final minutes of the film we are left uncertain about what it will take to make Streep's character find the strength to come to life again.
Hare's film is an ambitious attempt to create a dynamic and gripping narrative in which a personal story runs parallel to what happened in British society and politics between the end of World War Two and the late 50s. It doesn't quite come off - but all credit to Hare for trying: apart from Ken Loach (a director with a very different political and artistic agenda) few if any British films try to mix real politics and drama ( and the 50s is a period neglected by modern British film-makers)
and to show an audience some of the events that made us what we are today.
Streep's woman is something of a symbol, and like all symbols she's taken out of context - you never find out where she came from before the war - what kind of life made her the unusual woman she is, and that's a frustrating gap in a film that's partly about how society shapes people.
But Streep gives her usually committed performance, with Sam Neill, Sting and Charles Dance convincing as the varied lovers whose lives become tangled with hers.
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