The Ghost is Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’s best-selling political thriller, and while it’s probably tosh, it is top-notch, classy tosh of the most satisfying kind: taut, neatly plotted, atmospheric and exceedingly well acted. Pierce Brosnan even puts some effort in, for once — well done, Pierce! It wasn’t so bad, was it? — and Kim Cattrall is so goddamn ripe and juicy and sexy even I wanted to sleep with her, and I’m a straight woman. (Yes, yes, I do have a bit of a moustache, but it’s a red herring; it’s just one of those things that happen with age, like the tone in your upper arms going.) This is exceptionally skilled film-making by an exceptionally skilled film director who can bring together character, mood and story into the one highly watchable package, and if you don’t believe me, I don’t much care. I’ve got better things to do. And a moustache to bleach.
This is about an unnamed ghost-writer (Ewan McGregor), hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister, Adam Lang. In the novel, Harris describes Lang as ‘having a genius to refresh and elevate the clichés of politics by the sheer force of his performance’, and Brosnan is right on the money. He plays Lang as spookily empty but you can still see how, as a gifted communicator and actor, he might have convinced people otherwise. (See, Pierce. See what a little bit of effort can do, you big silly.) Lang is of the same stripe as Blair, obviously, but Polanski doesn’t make a meal of it here. It’s always enough so you know, but never so much that the film becomes more satire than thriller. It is perfectly judged.
Anyway, the ghost-writer is drafted in because his predecessor on the project, a close aide of Lang, died suddenly by falling off a ferry — what’s that I hear ringing? Alarm bells? — so off he flies, to Martha’s Vineyard, where the former PM is holed up in a borrowed house with his wife Ruth (the terrific Olivia Williams), his assistant-come-mistress Amelia (our ripe, juicy Kim) and an entourage of security and domestic staff. The house is modern, concrete, hard. It’s out of season and the weather is bleak. It’s an atmosphere of wintry discontent, exile and isolation. This may reflect Polanski’s own situation, although we don’t need to get into all that, and it won’t get us anywhere anyhow. The ghost-writer is shown the first draft of the memoir, which is wondrously, hilariously bad, but is there more to it than might appear? Why has Lang always cosied up to the Americans? Is he a war criminal working for the CIA?
This is not a showy, thrills-and-spills thriller. There are no cars spinning out of control and then overturning There are no set pieces. The most exciting action sequence happens right at the end, and involves only a note being passed from hand to hand. It is measured, knowing, steadily paced, and although McGregor’s estuary accent jars — what is that all about? — his sheer likability rather carries the day. This isn’t a great film. You won’t carry it around in your heart for years to come, and there are some rather ludicrous plot turns. Can you really get all you need to know about the CIA via Google? Why, too, do so many of the plot updates have to come via TV news bulletins, which, of course, someone reaches over to turn off as soon as the pertinent information has been imparted? But it’ll keep you with it right to the very end, which has to be worth something. It may even be worth quite a lot.
I thought I ought to see Cemetery Junction as it’s Ricky Gervais’s latest film, and now I’m cross with myself because I needn’t have bothered and could have spent the time fretting about my moustache. Gervais now seems adrift in some kind of sub, sub, sub Richard Curtis land, where character, mood and plot are simply thrown out the window and to hell with it. This coming-of-age story, set in 1973, is about three teens desperate to leave Reading — although heaven knows why; Reading look bucolically fabulous in this — and it is obvious, puerile and sentimental, with the jokes relying almost wholly on the homophobia, racism and misogyny that, according to this film, characterised the time. (Really? I grew up in the Seventies and can’t remember sitting around slagging off blacks and ‘poufs’ and lady parts.) I’d forget it, if I were you, and, even if you’re not you, I’d still forget it. I’d stick with Polanski, or Ro-Po as I suppose he’ll have to be called, to sell him to today’s youth. Today’s youth…what do they know? You’re better off with me. Although it may tickle when we kiss. Obviously.