It’s London in the mid 16th century and bankrupt James Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) decides to put his social connections to use in a get-rich-quick scheme, which takes shape after a chance meeting with Will Plunkett (Robert Carlyle).
The plan is simple: Macleane will infiltrate high society and identify rich and vulnerable targets, which the pair will then rob. It suits both men, with Plunkett amassing funds for a passage to America, and his partner able to sustain his extravagant lifestyle.
Their first target is Lord Chief Justice Gibson (Michael Gambon), who is with his niece Rebecca (Liv Tyler) when their coach is stopped. Gibson is angry, but impressed with their courtesy, and the pair are dubbed ‘The Gentlemen Highwaymen’. Gibson’s deputy Chance (Ken Stott) – The Thief Taker General – vows to track them down in order to get his master’s job and win Rebecca’s heart. Setting up an ambush with the young girl as bait, Chance puts them one step closer to execution at the Tyburn Tree, and tests the pair’s loyalty to the limits…
With a dance-music soundtrack, rapid cuts and glossy visuals which may betray the director’s MTV heritage (directing R.E.M’s Everybody Hurts and Oasis’ Morning Glory among many others), it’s his surname that most people noticed first. As part of the UK’s best-known directing dynasty, Jake Scott’s task in his debut feature was to establish himself as something more than Ridley Jr.
‘Great film-making is very sensitively handled and subtle’, said Jake. ‘I’ve got a long way to go.’ Such humility is refreshing but his film commands attention and delivers entertainment.
The glorious Alan Cumming’s motto (‘When one goes, Jamie, one must go with style.’) is shared by the rest of the cast, with the lead quartet all on form, especially the weasel Ken Stott. Scott pays homage to Butch and Sundance, Kubrick and The Duellists (in which he appeared in a walk-on role, aged 11), and is not averse to in-jokes, including the incorporation of Arsenal’s legendary defenders Dixon and Winterburn as the names of two dandy lords to whom his heroes are introduced.
UK | 93 minutes | 1999
Director: Jake Scott
Writers: Selwyn Roberts, Robert Wade, Neal Purvis, Charles McKeown
Jonny Lee Miller as Captain James Macleane
Robert Carlyle as Will Plunkett
Liv Tyler as Lady Rebecca Gibson
Ken Stott as Thief Taker General Chance
Michael Gambon as Lord Gibson
Alan Cumming as Lord Rochester
Alexander Armstrong as Winterburn
Ben Miller as Dixon
Tommy Flanagan as Eddie
Iain Robertson as Rob
David Walliams as Viscount Bilston
Matt Lucas as Sir Oswald
Noel Fielding as Brothel Gent
Claire Rushbrook as Lady Estelle Darcy
Terence Rigby as Harrison
Nicholas Farrell as MP’s Secretary
Tom Ward as MP
Stephen Walters as Dennis
Neve McIntosh as Liz