A social and political chameleon, James Penfield makes his money rearranging the facts, a talent he ruthlessly exploits in his professional relationships. But his penchants for storytelling leaks its way into his private life when he reinvents his past in the pursuit of Susie, the attractive and sophisticated daughter of upper class intellectuals. But as James twists himself tighter and tighter in his web of deceit, the stakes spin out of control and the sacrifice is more than just a printed story.
Intelligent, well written satire on media, mores and politics
- The Ploughman's Lunch review by RP
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Ian McEwan is widely regarded as the leading English novelist and is a personal favourite of mine. I've read all his published novels and short stories and enjoyed them - what I particularly like are the well-researched background details, the analytic and sometimes satirical treatment of the subjects and his sophisticated use of language. He has won the Booker Prize and several of his books have been made into films, one ('Atonement') winning an Oscar. In addition to all this, he has written a play and a number of screenplays - and one of these is 'The Ploughman's Lunch'.
I enjoyed the film very much. Set at the time of the Falklands conflict, it is a wide ranging satire on the media world and the politics of the day. The focus is on the main character, James Penfield (played by Jonathan Pryce) who works for BBC Radio News. He fancies Susan Barrington (played by Charlie Dore) who works for LWT and gets a friend (Jeremy Hancock, played by Tim Curry) to introduce them. James also wants to branch out from his somewhat humdrum BBC job and become and author, choosing the 1956 Suez conflict as his subject. It turns out that Susan's mother is an expert on the subject and James wangles an invitation to stay with her with the dual purpose of gaining material for his book and further contact with Susan. Susan's stepfather (played by Frank Finlay) is a womanising director of TV ads.
Intertwined with all this is James' alienation from his parents, the fatal illness of his mother, Susan's lack of interest in him, the duplicity of his friend Jeremy - and the triumphalist speeches of Margaret Thatcher et al.
In a slightly earlier era, the central character might have been described as an 'angry young man'. Here he represents a generation that has been educated far more than his parents and has few if any scruples about re-writing and bending history for his own ends, in this case to write a popular history of an ill-conceived war. His lack of scruples extend to pretending to be a socialist (he isn't), to using friends to do his own dirty deeds, to using Susan's mother for book material, having sex with her and abandoning her. Frankly, James isn't a very nice person.
There is an excellent sequence set at the Conservative Party Conference very cleverly filmed against real events and real politicians that emphases the underlying dishonesty and duplicitous nature of all of the characters.
If you're looking for a crash-bang-wallop action film or a thriller, then this isn't for you. But if you're looking for an intelligent, well written satire on media, mores and politics then you won't find much better than this.