The Ploughman's Lunch

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The Ploughman's Lunch
First edition cover
Directed byRichard Eyre
Produced bySimon Relph
Ann Scott
Written byIan McEwan
StarringJonathan Pryce
Tim Curry
Charlie Dore
Rosemary Harris
Frank Finlay
Music byDominic Muldowney
CinematographyClive Tickner
Edited byDavid Martin
Distributed byThe Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
  • May 1983 (1983-05) (United Kingdom)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Ploughman's Lunch is a 1983 British drama film written by Ian McEwan and directed by Richard Eyre which features Jonathan Pryce, Tim Curry, and Rosemary Harris.

The film looks at the media world in Margaret Thatcher's Britain during the time of the Falklands War. It was a part of Channel 4's "Film on Four" strand, enjoying a successful and critically lauded theatrical release[1][2] prior to its television screenings.


James Penfield (Pryce) is an ambitious London-based BBC radio reporter, from humble origins but Oxford-educated. He is commissioned to write a book on the Suez Crisis and undertakes this commission, claiming not to be a socialist, at the same time as the 1982 Falklands War is starting to dominate the British media.

This is a backdrop to his attraction towards Susan Barrington (Charlie Dore), an upper class, rather snooty TV journalist, to whom he is introduced through his close Oxford friend and fellow TV journalist, Jeremy Hancock (Tim Curry). Although he is persistent, he cannot get further than a late night kiss from her and so Jeremy suggests that he contact her mother, a prominent left-wing historian Ann Barrington (Harris) living in Norfolk, and married to advertising film director Matthew Fox (Frank Finlay). It transpires that Ann wrote an article on the Suez Crisis on its tenth anniversary and James wants to seduce the daughter by befriending the mother.

Claiming to be a socialist, James soon finds himself spending more time with the mother than her daughter; they have several long discussions and also take long walks on the Norfolk Broads. Meanwhile, his mother is dying, and having earlier said to Susan that his parents are dead, he is forced to identify her only as a relative when his father contacts him while he is with Ann. Returning to London, he is forced to ask for help from members of a women's peace camp for a jack after suffering a puncture. Initially mistaken for another BBC man, he shows some feigned sympathy towards the group protesting against the use of force outside a Norfolk airbase. Visiting Norfolk again a week later with an uninterested Susan, James walks alone with Ann Barrington who kisses him and later enters his bedroom and has sex with him.

Caught up in this love triangle, James returns to his work in London. Over a beer and pub ploughman's lunch with Matthew Fox, Fox consents to James making love to his wife, given that they have slept in separate beds for the last three years. James refuses to take calls from the mother when she attempts to contact him at the BBC. He finally gets another Oxford friend and up and coming young poet to make a call to her ending the relationship, while he sits idly by reading advertisements in Exchange and Mart.

James, Jeremy and Susan cover the 1982 Conservative Party Conference and travel down to Brighton together in James' Jaguar. It is at the start of the conference that James first starts to get an inkling of something going on between the other two and directly asks Jeremy if he is up to something. Later, during the conference, he attempts to talk to Susan but she brushes him off and he then sees them caressing each other, having obviously returned from their hotel room. The Conference finishes with Thatcher's closing address as she rouses popular support following the Falklands War and afterwards James confronts his friend in the Brighton Centre conference hall, calling him a shit for having betrayed him; he in turn is told by Jeremy that he has known Susan for fifteen years and that they are 'old allies'.

The film ends with James having a conversation with his publisher about the success of his first book. The closing scene is of James attending his mother's funeral, standing grim-faced and aloof at his father's side, as he impatiently checks his watch.



In The New York Times, film critic Vincent Canby wrote, "James Penfield, the journalist who glowers at the center of the fine new English film The Ploughman's Lunch, is a fascinating variation on all of the angry, low-born young men who populated British novels and plays in the late 1950's and 60's. Although he denies it, he is angry. At one point he says: 'You do everything right and you feel nothing. Either way.' His problem is that he feels everything all too acutely, but it doesn't make him a better person, only more devious. James Penfield is Jimmy Porter of Look Back in Anger updated to the 1980's, specifically to London during the 1982 Falkland war and the Tory leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Ploughman's Lunch, the first theatrical film to be written by Ian McEwan and directed by Richard Eyre, is a witty, bitter tale of duplicity and opportunism in both private and public life...This is tricky stuff, but The Ploughman's Lunch blends fact with fiction with astonishing success."[3] The Daily Mail said of the work, "This is undoubtedly the most politically aware film produced in Britain since the war,"[4] adding that its "crab-like pattern traverses a huge area of British social and political life, including the media, the LSE students, the fashionable publishers – and it ends up at the justified triumphalism being celebrated by Margaret Thatcher at the Tory Party conference, where cameras smuggled into that event allowed the film actors to mingle with the political supremos of the day. No subsequent film catches so well the look and lifestyle of the early Eighties."

Box office[edit]

Goldcrest Films invested £398,000 in the movie and received £271,000 causing them to lose £127,000.[5]


  1. ^ Vincent Canby, "'The Ploughman's Lunch,' An Exercise in Duplicity," The New York Times, 19 October 1984.
  2. ^ Robert McCrum, "The Story of His Life," The Guardian, 23 January 2002.
  3. ^ Vincent Canby, "'The Ploughman's Lunch,' An Exercise in Duplicity," The New York Times, 19 October 1984.
  4. ^ The Daily Mail Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  5. ^ Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. p. 657.

External links[edit]