Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fred Schepisi|
|Produced by||Joseph Papp|
Edward R. Pressman
|Written by||David Hare|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Spanning nearly 20 years from the early 1940s to the 1960s, the plot focuses on Susan Traherne, an Englishwoman who is irreparably changed by her experiences as a fighter for the French Resistance during World War II when she has a one-night stand with a British intelligence agent. After the war ends, Susan returns to England and becomes determined to make a life for herself by achieving what she wishes in the post-war world which, after her time away, she finds trivial and inadequate, while acting with complete disregard for everybody around her.
In 1943 in German-occupied France during World War II, 18-year-old British courier Susan Traherne (Meryl Streep) waits in the woods for a message to be dropped by parachute from a British plane. After experiencing airplane trouble, a fellow British operative named Lazar (Sam Neill) parachutes down, and Susan explains how things are run at her post. When they are nearly caught by German troops, Susan's tough exterior cracks, and she cries on Lazar's shoulder. Soon after, the couple returns to Susan's home and make love. Lazar leaves the next morning, without saying goodbye to Susan. However, he leaves behind his cuff-links for her as a gift which Susan then carries around with her for the remainder of the film.
Two years later after the war ends in 1945, while travelling through Europe with Susan, a man named Tony Radley drops dead of a heart attack in a hotel lobby in Brussels. Raymond Brock (Charles Dance) from the British Embassy arrives to oversee Radley's funeral, and consoles his widow, Susan. Sometime later at the embassy, Susan confesses to Raymond that she and Radley were not really married; they only posed as husband and wife during the war, and asks him to tell Radley's real wife that the man died while traveling alone.
After returning to London for the first time in two years, Susan and Raymond begin a relationship, and he travels from his post in Belgium to visit her in England every weekend. Susan takes a job as a clerk in a small shipping firm in the East End. Susan's friend and colleague, the spunky 18-year-old Alice Park (Tracey Ullman), moves in with her, and they engage in a bohemian lifestyle, visiting nightclubs together. Susan is restless in her post-war life, and expresses frustration with her job at the shipping office. During the winter of 1945-1946, she quarrels with Raymond, and suggests they separate for the winter.
Skipping forward to 1953, Susan is now working as a member of Queen Elizabeth's coronation committee. She has moved into a larger apartment, and Alice is still her roommate. One day, Susan asks one of Alice's former boyfriends and a fellow working-class lover, Mick (Sting), to father her child. He reluctantly agrees to conceive a child with her, but is discouraged that she would want to raise the baby without him.
When her job in the coronation committee is done, Susan begins working in advertising, but leaves within months, finding the work unsatisfying. Over time, Mick tries to court Susan, but she refuses to consider having a real relationship with him. After 18 months of trying and failing to become pregnant, Susan ends their involvement which leads to a confrontation on New Year's Day in 1955 between her and Mick in her apartment which ends with Susan firing a gun above Mick's head to make him leave. Alice telephones Susan's former boyfriend, Raymond (who is still working in the diplomatic corps), to report that Susan has suffered a nervous breakdown. He arrives to visit her in the hospital, and in time, Raymond and Susan get married.
In a jump-forward to November 1956, Susan remains frustrated with her life despite that she is married and now living in a fancy rowhouse in the West End. Susan's unstable mental state becomes apparent to everyone, including Alice, when Susan is moody and is insulting to Raymond and their friends during a party attended by Sir Leonard Darwin (John Gielgud), which prompts him to walk out and announce to everyone that he has resigned from his position due to Great Britain's involvement in the Suez Crisis.
Skipping forward three or four years later, Susan and Raymond have moved to Jordan, where Raymond has been assigned a diplomatic post. Alice pays them a visit, and is alarmed by Susan's subdued demeanor. Although Susan claims to be happy, Alice questions her and Raymond about their sedate lifestyle, and worries how her friend could stay in Jordan for another two years. When word travels of the death of Raymond's colleague, Sir Leonard Darwin, Susan uses the excuse to return to England for the funeral, and Raymond blames Alice for putting the idea in Susan's head. Back in England, Susan insists they not return to Jordan.
Sometime later in 1962, Susan meets Raymond's employer, Sir Andrew Charleson (Ian McKellen), and questions him about her husband's stagnant career. The meeting soon turns ugly when Susan threatens to commit suicide if Raymond does not receive a promotion within six days, which prompts Charleson to have Susan removed from the building. Charleson then informs Raymond of his wife's visit and threats in which he dismisses Raymond from all of his posts and forces him into early retirement.
When the distraught and sombre Raymond returns home, he finds Susan decorating the house, seemingly oblivious to her actions earlier that day. Raymond insists Susan see a mental health practitioner, but she refuses and claims to have no idea what he means by that. As the couple argue, Susan slams a door in his face, and Raymond is knocked unconscious. She nurses his bloodied face before packing her things and leaving.
Soon after, Susan rekindles her wartime love affair with Lazar, meeting him at a seaside hotel, after he had tracked her down after seeing her being interviewed on a TV program weeks earlier about her involvement in the war. After they make love, Susan shares her mental instability with Lazar. When she falls asleep, he leaves.
In the final scene, Susan recalls her idealistic youth in the French countryside, following the end of the war where news about Germany's surrender reaches the French village where Susan is staying. Susan talks with a local French dairy farmer about the end of the war and agrees to accompany him to a party with his family in the village to celebrate the end of the conflict. In the ironic final shot, Susan proclaims: "there will be days and days like this for many years to come!"
Plenty was met with mixed reviews upon release. It currently holds a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 14 critics.
Movie critic Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four. He said that Streep gave "a performance of great subtlety; it is hard to play an unbalanced, neurotic, self-destructive woman, and do it with such gentleness and charm... Streep creates a whole character around a woman who could have simply been a catalogue of symptoms."
- 4 EUROPE-BASED DIRECTORS COAXED TO HOLLYWOOD HARMETZ, ALJEAN. New York Times 21 Feb 1985: C.20.
- Ebert, Roger. 1985. Movie review of Plenty, The Chicago Sun Times