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Ploughman's Lunch, The (1983)

Courtesy of Goldcrest Films International Ltd

Main image of Ploughman's Lunch, The (1983)
DirectorRichard Eyre
Production CompaniesGreenpoint Films, A.C. & D. (Plant Hirers), Goldcrest Films and Television, Michael White
ProducersSimon Relph
 Ann Scott
ScriptIan McEwan
PhotographyClive Tickner
MusicDominic Muldowney

Cast: Jonathan Pryce (James Penfield), Tim Curry (Jeremy Hancock), Rosemary Harris (Ann Barrington), Frank Finlay (Matthew Fox), Charlie Dore (Susan Barrington), David De Keyzer (Tom Gold)

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In 1982, at the time of the Conservative Party Conference following the Falklands War, an ambitious radio journalist researches a book about Suez, whilst pursuing an affair with a woman television researcher whose mother, a Socialist historian, has also written on the subject.

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Funded in part by Channel Four and released in 1983, The Ploughman's Lunch (d. Richard Eyre) is an 'issues' film, commenting on the state of affairs in Britain in the early 1980s. It uses a very contemporary setting to criticise the policies of the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher, particularly the promotion of self-interest, of ruthless dedication to obtain a desired goal. Each of the film's main characters embraces these ideas, but in a negative way, using each other to get ahead. Journalist James (Jonathan Pryce) uses Susan (Charlie Dore) to get to her historian mother (Rosemary Harris), then sleeps with the mother so she will continue to help him with his research. Embarrassed by his working-class parents, he tells people they are dead.

The subtext of the film is the way countries and people re-write their own history to suit the needs of the present. James' book is about the 1956 Suez Crisis, which was a disaster for Britain and then Prime Minister Anthony Eden. But in the light of the 1982 Falklands War, which for many presented a new image of Britain as a strong and brave country, James re-writes the story of Suez to make it look like a victory. James also writes the news for the radio, so as he re-writes past events to fit a new British image, he also shapes the news as it happens. He also shapes himself, moulding his opinions to fit whoever he is talking to, in order to make the right impression.

The film presents a bleak Britain with little hope for the future. There are almost no sympathetic characters and at the end James learns no lesson. He improves his image, but loses his soul. He gets what he wants, at a price he is prepared to pay.

Simon Brown

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Video Clips
1. The book launch (3:37)
2. Fabricating the past (3:10)
3. The party conference (2:50)
Production stills
Red and the Blue, The (1983)
Curry, Tim (1946-)
Finlay, Frank (1926-)
Pryce, Jonathan (1947-)
Relph, Simon (1940-)