In this snappy and clever screen adaptation of George Orwell's 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Richard E. Grant plays Gordon Comstock, a frustrated copywriter in a 1930s London advertising agency. Although he has only had one slim volume of poetry published, this narcissist is convinced that his star is about to ascend to great heights. Much to the dismay of his girlfriend Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter), a designer at the same firm, Gordon quits his job to become "a poet and a free man."

Screenplay writer Alan Plater does a masterful job conveying Orwell's critique of the rigid class-consciousness in England. Despite constant loans from his long-suffering sister (Harriet Walter) and the many kindnesses of Ravelston (Julian Wadham), his wealthy publisher and patron, Gordon continues to live under the illusion that he is very special and superior to others. Only after he is plunged into poverty and forced to live and work in a slum does he finally open his heart and see clearly how dependent he is upon those who love him. Robert Bierman directs this acerbic morality drama. A Merry War is about the most important education of all — the education of the heart.