Thriller of exile and accusation

2010-05-24 00:00

A FILM about exile and accusation is an interesting choice for Roman Polanski, himself exiled from Hollywood by his long-ago crimes.

Here, a former British prime minister is holed up in a bunker-like house on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the American coast, writing his memoirs. Except he’s not writing, and his previous aide and ghost writer has drowned, so a new one is sought. The writer (Ewan McGregor) isn’t interested in the politics, but he is good at getting to the heart of a subject, so he’s dispatched to the fortress to knock the manuscript into shape. There the group around the ex-PM, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), are doing all they can to maintain his sense of himself as a crucial world figure, but really he’s a former PM, and, as we have just seen, they’re supposed to walk back into ordinary life and get on with it. Britain isn’t America, after all.

The writer’s job is complicated from the very beginning when Lang’s former foreign secretary accuses him of war crimes, in that he assisted in the kidnapping of British terrorism suspects for interrogation and torture in third countries (so-called rendition). Does even an apolitical person want to get involved with burnishing such a reputation?

Lang himself is desperately trying to keep his sense of himself afloat by cosying up to his former American “friends”. There’s a hilarious scene where his wife, PA and the writer go to meet his borrowed corporate jet at a tiny island airport and he pauses at the top of the stairs to give a prime ministerial wave. Brosnan plays Lang perfectly — he’s petulant, self-important and fake to his toenails.

The paradox that the writer homes in on early is that Lang was not a young political activist (no campaigning at the age of 12 like Gordon Brown), but a Cambridge dilettante, a member of the Footlights Revue, not the debating society. But Lang doesn’t want his acting past dwelt on, because politicians are always accused of acting. And when he addresses a group of protes­ters screaming for his blood, it’s as if he’s reading lines.

The oppressive gloom of the bunker begins to play on the writer as the Lang team try to think of a way to extricate him from the war crimes accusation. When he uncovers more anomalies about Lang’s past and begins to suspect that his predecessor’s death wasn’t the drunken accident it has been portrayed as, things get more sinister.

And what about Lang’s women — his dark, clever, cynical wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), clearly the real political force, and his brittle, adoring PA, Amelia (played a little oddly by Kim Cattrall).

The Ghost Writer, based on a book by Robert Harris, is both a thriller and a consideration of political cynicism. It has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel (let’s just say Tony Blair is unlikely to be a fan), but is carefully crafted and beautifully shot (in northern Germany, because Polanski is barred from America). The subject is weighty, but the touch is surprisingly light (with more than one laugh-out-loud moment). It shows again what an excellent actor Pierce Brosnan can be, and is certainly the best thing McGregor has done for ages.


Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.