This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Plunkett and Macleane" conducts an experiment: Can a movie be constructed entirely out of stylistic excess, without the aid of a story or characters we'd give two farthings for? Answer: Perhaps, but not this time. Here is a film overgrown with so many directorial flourishes that the heroes need machetes to hack their way to within view of the audience. It's not enough to want to make a movie. You have to know why, and let the audience in on your thinking.
The film, set in 18th century London, tells the story of a gentleman named Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) and an unwashed rogue named Plunkett (Robert Carlyle). Macleane is not entirely a gentleman (the movie opens with him being sentenced for public drunkenness), but at least he knows how to play one, and the accent is right. Plunkett has the better natural manners and charm. When they meet after an unlikely jailbreak, Plunkett suggests that with Macleane's accent and his own criminal expertise, they could make a living stealing from the rich.
When you extract this story from the morass of style through which it wades, it's as simpleminded as an old B Western. The two men lurk in the woods, spring upon the passing carriages of the rich, and relieve them of their wealth. Trouble looms when Macleane is smitten by the beautiful Lady Rebecca Gibson (Liv Tyler), who, wouldn't you know, is the niece of the Lord Chief Justice (Michael Gambon). The pair become known as the Gentlemen Highwaymen, the chief justice is enraged that they have not been captured, and the oily Chance (Ken Stott) is in charge of the chase.
Just as a random hypothesis, let us suppose that one of the pair is captured and sentenced to hang. Take the following multiple-choice quiz. Will he: a. Hang by the neck until dead.