Plunkett & Macleane

UK 1999

Reviewed by Philip Strick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

London, 1748. Bankrupt James Macleane encounters Will Plunkett, who proposes a partnership: financed by Plunkett, Macleane will mingle with high society and identify its wealthiest and most vulnerable members, whom they will rob. The scheme ideally suits both men: Macleane is an ardent party-goer and womaniser with a passion for gambling, while Plunkett is amassing funds for a passage to America. Befriended by the dissolute Lord Rochester, Macleane is soon among the idle rich, selecting Lord Gibson as the first target. Gibson's niece Lady Rebecca is with him when the two masked horsemen stop his coach, and is impressed by their courtesy. Overnight they become known as "the Gentlemen Highwaymen".

Gibson's deputy Chance makes it his personal vendetta to track down the robbers. Although upset when Macleane squanders most of their booty, Plunkett still loyally rescues his partner when he's wounded in an ambush. Eager to claim Gibson's job as well as his niece, Chance sets up a trap with the unwilling assistance of Rebecca, who by now has guessed the miscreants' identity. Plunkett and Macleane intercept Gibson's coach but evade Chance's horsemen; Chance shoots Gibson himself. Challenging Rebecca for her supposed betrayal, Macleane is captured and sentenced to hang for Gibson's murder. As Macleane is hauled aloft on the gallows, Plunkett rescues him with Rebecca and Rochester's help, galloping off pursued by Chance and his men. Plunkett turns back to confront Chance and shoots him before heading for freedom with Rebecca and Macleane.


Like the movie versions of Butch and Sundance, Plunkett & Macleane's two bandits and a girl make their final exit in a blaze of glory, severed from the tedious weight of historical accuracy. One might generously suppose that their story's concluding scenes are in Incident at Owl Creek (1961) territory, a representation of the condemned captive's fevered imaginings. This would excuse the implausible nature of the rescue operation and its aftermath. Viewed less generously, its peculiar climactic twists serve mainly to confirm the structure of Plunkett & Macleane as an opportunistic patchwork designed more to please or titillate than persuade. Quite why the film's protagonists elect to blunder through storm-drain tunnels, or why Plunkett puts himself at such risk from Chance, or where the exuberant Lord Rochester is galloping off to at the end, are evidently of minor concern - like the fact that the original Macleane died unrescued at Tyburn prison in 1750. Genetically modified for today's tastes, the Gentlemen Highwaymen have been packaged as iconic superheroes, flawed (of course) but immortal and irresistible in an anti-authoritarian kind of way.

Fortunately, despite a certain amount of posturing for the sake of felony, they are played for grime as much as glamour. In fact their objectives appear tolerably rational against the lurid background. Relishing exaggeration and absurdity, the film offers four distinct contexts: a resplendently untouched countryside, a terrain exploitable not for its Englishness or its reminders of the hills of various Gainsboroughs but for its seclusion as a shooting range. At the opposite extreme, all artifice and old lace, is London society, powdered and plastered beyond reason, ripe with potential plunder. Meanwhile, the braying club-crowd, weaving haughtily from one party to the next, is parodied on the London streets (actually filmed in Prague) where Pythonesque assemblies of gap-toothed extras celebrate a riotous programme of hangings and other indignities.

Underlying these deliberately dubious reconstructions is another vision entirely - that of the seasoned film fan. Described by its producer as a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the 90s, Plunkett & Macleane is an anthology of echoes, not just of Westerns, but of cinema as a whole. Opening with a mist-shrouded graveyard to suit any Corman classic and a macabre bloodletting to match Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957) at his most clinical, the film proceeds to steal gleefully from numerous precedents: Tom Jones, The Draughtsman's Contract, The Company of Wolves and so on. When it gets around to paying due tribute to Scott père, the only surprise is that the duellists favour pistols instead of swords. And if some of the allusions may be unintentional - a masked nod to Batman, say, or a hint of A Clockwork Orange in the brothel sequence - there's little doubt that the stagecoach riddled with bullets is a lift from The Gauntlet, with Robert Carlyle trying on the Eastwood role for size and finding it a capable fit.

Well primed by a string of music videos, Jake Scott achieves a flashy if noncommittal feature debut. His soundtrack, sure enough, is militantly anachronistic, a terrorzone of back-beats and electronics. But he has a connoisseur's eye for costume and decor, and his widescreen vistas, when he remembers to use them (economical close-ups dominate the film), are elegantly enjoyable. Probably his best shot is of a ballroom's patterned floor, although he studies Liv Tyler with a similar symmetry, his experience in commercials evidently continuing to inspire a preference for form over content. While he can be accused of having subverted the account of an intriguing partnership into little better than a noisy romp, an opportunity for Ken Stott to pop an eyeball or two and for Alan Cumming to dress up as Boy George, he does so with enough energy and style to suggest that, like the other film-makers in his family (father Ridley and uncle Tony), he has excellent prospects.


Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Rupert Harvey
Robert Wade
Neal Purvis
Charles McKeown
Based on a screenplay by
Selwyn Roberts
Director of Photography
John Mathieson
Oral Norrie Ottey
Production Designer
Norris Spencer
Craig Armstrong
©PolyGram Filmed Entertainment Inc.
Production Companies
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment presents
in association with The Arts Council of England a Working Title production
Supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England
Executive Producers
Gary Oldman
Douglas Urbanski
Selwyn Roberts
Matthew Stillman
Line Producers
Donna Grey
UK Unit:
Nick O'Hagan
Additional Photography:
Mark Huffam
Jonathan Finn
Natascha Wharton
Head of Development
Debra Hayward
Company Co-ordinator
Nina Khoshaba
Production Co-ordinators
Lisa Parker
Lída Ordnungová
UK Unit:
Fiona Weir
Additional Photography:
Lil Heyman
Production Services
Spanish Unit:
Voodoo Productions
Czech Republic:
Stillking Productions
Production Managers
Michal Skop
2nd Unit:
Jasmina Torbati
Spanish Unit:
Rosa Romero
Location Managers
Jaroslav Vaculik
Pavel Mrkous
UK Unit:
Amanda Stevens
David Boardman
Additional Photography:
Chris Brock
Spanish Unit:
Txell Sabartés
Jeanette Haley
Steve Harrow
2nd Unit Director
Norris Spencer
Assistant Directors
Euan Keddie
Mirek Lux
Andi Brown
Olda Mach
Lucie Minaríková
Mark Fenn
2nd Unit:
David Rauch
Additional Photography:
Nick Heckstall-Smith
George Walker
Fiona Richards
Laura Goulding
Additional Photography:
Annie Wotton
Jina Jay
Mike Fenton
Allison Cowitt
Cine Jessy
Czech Actors:
Jessica Horváthová
ADR Crowd:
Louis Elman
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Additional Photography:
Angus Hudson
2nd Unit Lighting Cameraman
Martin Grosup
Camera Operator
Rodrigo Gutierrez
Steadicam Operator
Klemens Becker
Wescam Operator
Graham Berry
Digital Visual Effects
Mill Film Ltd
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Karl Mooney
Digital Effects Producer:
Nikki Penny
Lead 2D Compositor:
Steve Murgatroyd
Digital Effects Co-ordinator:
Paul Edwards
Digital Visual Effects
The Magic Camera Company
Angie Wills
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Angus Cameron
Digital Artist:
Robin Huffer
Digital Film Controller:
Andrew Jeffery
Digital Film Scanner:
John Grant
Special Effects
Flash Barrandov Special Effects Ltd
Jaroslav Stolba
Senior Technicians:
Jaroslav Kolman
Roman Tudzaroff Jr
Jirí Väter
Floor Technician:
Martin Kulhánek
UK Unit Supervisor:
Joss Williams
UK Unit Technicians:
Andy Williams
Jon Holmes
Additional Photography Supervisor:
Clive Beard
Additional Photography Technicians:
Steve Warner
Matthew Horton
Art Directors
Petr Kunc
Jindrich Koci
Spanish Unit:
Jordi Yrla
Set Decorator
Jenny Dyer
Costume Designer
Janty Yates
Costume Supervisors
Gianni Casalnuovo
Barbara Rutter
UK Unit:
Jane Lewis
Wardrobe Supervisor
Hanka Kucerová
Make-up/Hair Designer
Graham Johnston
Key Make-up
Jirí Farkas
Make-up/Hair Artists
Marese Langan
UK Unit:
Carmel Jackson
Lorna McGowan
Additional Photography:
Anita Burger
Image Animation
Additional Photography Designer:
Conor O'Sullivan
Key Hair
Eva Vyplelová
Main Title Sequence Design/Direction
Nick Livesey
General Screen Enterprises
Craig Armstrong
Stephen Hilton
Heather Corbett
Catherine Bott
Orchestras Conductor
Cecilia Weston
Orchestral Leader
Gavyn Wright
Craig Armstrong
Matt Dunkley
Choir Co-ordinator
Jenny O'Grady
Music Production Supervisor
Sandy Dworniak
Executive in Charge of Music for PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Dawn Solér
Music Editor
Tom Sayers
Music Recorder/Mixer
Geoff Foster
"No 9" by Craig Armstrong, Marius De Vries, performed by Craig Armstrong; "Hell", "Whore", "Sailors" by Martin Jacques, performed by The Tiger Lillies; "Childhood", "Hypnotic" by/performed by Craig Armstrong; "Houses in Motion" by David Byrne, Brian Eno, Christopher Frantz, Martina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, performed by Lewis Parker, Helen White, Craig Armstrong, Stephen Hilton
Special Tyburn Poetry
Murray Lachlan-Young
Blanca Li
Sound Mixer
Mark Holding
Re-recording Mixers
Ray Merrin
Graham Daniel
Supervising Sound Editor
Glenn Freemantle
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Max Hoskins
Kevin Taylor
Jack Stew
Lionel Selwyn
Felicity Cotterell
Stan Fiferman
Kevin Taylor
Christopher Ackland
Historical Consultant
Lucy Moore
Stunt Co-ordinators
Steve Dent
Pavel Voukoun
Additional Photography:
Marc Boyle
Spanish Unit:
Juan Cruz Mesa
Tony O'Connor
Frantisek Mesícek
Helicopter Pilot
Spanish Unit:
Juan Nicolás García
Robert Carlyle
Will Plunkett
Jonny Lee Miller
James Macleane
Liv Tyler
Lady Rebecca
Ken Stott
Michael Gambon
Lord Gibson
Alan Cumming
Lord Rochester
Iain Robertson
Rob, highwayman
Tommy Flanagan
Stephen Walters
James Thornton
Terence Rigby
Christian Camargo
Lord Pelham
Karel Polisensky
Newgate priest
Neve McIntosh
Matt Lucas
Sir Oswald
David Walliams
Viscount Bilston
David Foxxe
Lord Ketch
Jake Gavin
Newgate gent
Alexander Armstrong
Ben Miller
Jan Kuzelka
Vladimír Javorsky
headbutted tailor
Milena Sajdková
horse dealer
Karel Dobry
lewd young man
Daniel de la Falaise
member of parliament
Tom Ward
backbench heckler
Nicholas Farrell
prime minister's secretary
Gordon Lovitt
Ranelagh MC
Claire Rushbrook
Lady Estelle
Tim McMullan
Jeff Nuttall
Lord Morris
Dana Jurzova
Duchess of Stoke
Martin Serene
Dean Cook
older highwayman kid
Jacob Yentob
younger highwayman kid
Annabel Brooks
widow with garter
Tony Maudsley
older clergyman
Alex Palmer
younger clergyman
Victoria Harrison
Emma Faulkner
young girl prostitute
Noel Fielding
brothel gent
Jack Waters
duel referee
Pavel Gregr
Susan Porrett
Lady Newbold
Nichola McAuliffe
Lady Crombie
Anna Keaveney
Lady Marchant
Jacques Mathou
French count
Michael Culkin
Judge Beresteade
Murray Lachlan-Young
gallows poet
Dave Atkins
Karel Augusta
Drahomír Mráz
hangman's assistant
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
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Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011