Plenty – 1985


ISeven years the first performance of Plenty, David Hare’s award-winning script was turned into a screenplay to be directed by Fred Schepisi. The story follows Susan (Meryl Streep) over the course of twenty years, starting with her war service in a sleepy French provincial town. Over time her story becomes emblematic of a changing Britain and the struggle to maintain post-war optimism.

There’s a cinematic style that seems to hover over adapted screenplays, particularly those written by or adapted by playwrights. Betrayal and A Room with a View are some other examples but Plenty certainly has it. The effect this generally has is a kind of redundancy or, more kindly, double impact in the film. Things that have to be specified on a stage, such as the location of the scenes and even remarks about the weather are visual markers. They would do as well to be left entirely unsaid when a camera can point directly at them. This creates a unique atmosphere of verbosity and overstatement. It seems that these characters are moved within themselves to speak so strongly all of the time despite expressing themselves in other ways. However with such beautiful cinematography and performances it’s certainly hard-hitting in combination.

This quirk of script works entirely to Meryl Streep’s advantage. Her portrayal of Susan shows her as a woman on the edge, permanently holding back the floodgates to something. We only glimpse at what she’s keeping hidden inside herself and even then it’s filtered through politics and custom. Streep’s performance is mesmerising, almost charming if she were not playing such a hideously flawed woman.

Other characters come and go throughout the film, memorably Charles Dance and Sting as two spurned men caught in Susan’s whirlwind. However Plenty remains at its core an examination of Susan’s psyche. As such it’s difficult to enjoy in a traditional sense. There’s a desire for reconciliation, happiness or even a moment of piece as you’re dragged along on her vindictive, destructive life but it never comes. Despite Streep’s fantastic performance it’s so difficult to connect to Susan that the film loses its emotional thrust about halfway through. While, of course, people are shaped disproportionately by their early experiences it seems that Susan is just searching for reasons to be unhappy. As if her entire life was a performance put on to excuse herself from living. Destructive and self-righteous are not personality traits that make for sympathetic characters, and so, much like Silver Linings Playbook, I found Plenty eventually leaving me cold, despite the sum of its parts.

  • Entertainment: 3/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:      3/5

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