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Adapted for the screen by playwright David Hare from his popular stage production, Plenty (1985) is a dense, detailed character study with a top-notch cast that always remains engrossing despite its episodic, meandering plot. Meryl Streep stars (in one of her most notable turns during the '80s) as Susan Traherne, a young Englishwoman who fights behind enemy lines during World War II with the French Resistance. Despite often being frightened by the dangerous work, the war effort appeals to Susan, and in particular to her idealism and desire to make a difference. A brief romance with a mysterious British spy (Sam Neill) creates even more excitement for her — so much so that Susan finds it difficult to adjust to life in Britain after the war. She rooms with her eccentric bohemian friend Alice (Tracey Ullman), which is a good fit for her own free-spirited ways. But her romance with up-and-coming diplomat Raymond Brock (Charles Dance) is tempestuous at times. Choosing to live as independently as possible, Susan decides she is willing to be a mother without a husband, and she takes up an affair with working-class vendor Mick (Sting) to father a child. But after their many encounters fail to bear fruit, she marries Raymond, only to chafe against the overly polite civil-servant society of the diplomatic corps, and in particular her husband's officious boss Sir Leonard Darwin (John Gielgud). And despite her husband's inordinate patience with her erratic behavior, Susan eventually finds herself locked into depression and mental illness. On paper, Plenty appears as if it would be a difficult film to stick with — the lead character is not entirely sympathetic, and at times outrightly disagreeable. But a careful bit of exposition illustrates Susan's idealism and very human vulnerability, and Streep is exactly the sort of actress to take the difficult role and make it transcendent. It would be easy to view Susan as a woman given to fitful outbursts and harsh recriminations, only to wall herself away in a sort of spiritual catatonia, but Streep underplays the dramatic moments and fills her character with a variety of textures — her independence, her wit, and the inexplicable pain she feels in a prosperous, plentiful society. Not one of the supporting players misses a note — Ullman offers a lot of her elfin charm, Charles Dance is always compelling and gets a few good scenes, Sam Neill is rakish and solemn as the spy Lazar, and pop-star Sting handles his role as Susan's paramour convincingly. What's more, it's hard to beat both John Gielgud and Ian McKellen, who appear in just a handful of scenes and play them unforgettably, as if they are the top-billed parts. Anchor Bay's DVD release of Plenty features a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a retrospective documentary with director Fred Schepisi, who hopes the film will earn new fans on DVD. Trailer, cast notes. Keep-case.

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