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The Ghost Writer (film)

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Subject: Roman Polanski, Cultural depictions of Tony Blair, Douro Film Harvest, Tony Blair, National Board of Review Awards 2010
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The Ghost Writer (film)

The Ghost Writer
US film poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Roman Polanski
Robert Benmussa
Alain Sarde
Screenplay by Roman Polanski
Robert Harris
Based on The Ghost 
by Robert Harris
Starring Ewan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Kim Cattrall
Olivia Williams
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Hutton
Jon Bernthal
Tim Preece
Robert Pugh
David Rintoul
Eli Wallach
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Paweł Edelman
Edited by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by Summit Entertainment (United States)
Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
Release dates
  • 12 February 2010 (2010-02-12) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • 19 March 2010 (2010-03-19) (United States)
  • 16 April 2010 (2010-04-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $45 million[1]
Box office $60,222,298[1]

The Ghost Writer (released as The Ghost in the United Kingdom and Ireland)[2] is a 2010 British political thriller film directed by Roman Polanski. The film is an adaptation of the Robert Harris novel, The Ghost, with the screenplay written by Polanski and Harris. It stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.[3]

The film won numerous cinematic awards including Best Director for Polanski at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and also at the 23rd European Film Awards in 2010.[4]


A British ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor), who is never named, is recruited by Rhinehart Inc., a large publishing company, to complete the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). His predecessor on the project and Lang's long-term aide, Mike McAra, has recently died in an apparent accident. The writer travels to the fictional Massachusetts village of Old Haven on Martha's Vineyard, where Lang is staying with his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), in the house of Marty Rhinehart, the company owner, and a staff of servants and security personnel. The writer is checked into a small hotel. Lang's personal assistant (and implied mistress), Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), forbids him to take McAra's manuscript outside, emphasizing that it is a security risk. Rhinehart is allowing the new ghost four weeks to get the story straight.

Shortly after the writer's arrival, Lang is accused by former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh) of authorising the illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the CIA, a possible war crime. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless he stays in the U.S. or any other country that does not recognise the court's jurisdiction. As reporters and protesters swarm the island, the writer is moved into McAra's old room at Rhinehart's house, where personal belongings have not been cleared out yet. While Lang is away in Washington, the writer finds an envelope containing photographs of Lang's university days that suggest McAra might have stumbled across clues to a dark secret. Among the material is a handwritten phone number, which he rings and is answered by Rycart.

During a bicycle ride around the island, the writer encounters an old man (Eli Wallach) who tells him that the current couldn't have taken McAra's body from the ferry where he disappeared to the beach where it was discovered. He also reveals that a neighbour saw flashlights on the beach the night the body was discovered, but later fell downstairs and went into a coma. The writer is later intercepted by Ruth and her security guard, who take him back to the estate. There, while drinking a bottle of Rhinehart Vinery wine, Ruth admits that Lang has never been very political, and until recently had always taken her advice. When the writer tells her the old man's story, she suddenly rushes out into the rainy night to "clear her head." Upon returning, she confides in the writer that Lang and McAra had argued the night before he died. She and the writer end up sleeping together.

The next morning, the writer decides he is getting too intimate with his subject and to move back to the hotel, taking the car that McAra used on his last journey. The writer follows the pre-programmed directions on the car's sat-nav that eventually lead him to Belmont, and the home of Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson). Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang, despite the writer showing him two photographs of the pair, as well as another one on the wall of Emmett's study. When the writer tells Emmett that the sat-nav proves McAra visited him on the night he died, Emmett denies any knowledge and becomes evasive. The writer leaves Emmett's estate, and is forced to elude a car pursuing him. The writer boards the ferry back to Martha's Vineyard, but when he sees the pursuit car drive aboard, with two men looking for him, he flees the boat at the last moment and checks into a small motel by the ferry dock.

Not knowing to whom to turn, the writer again dials Rycart's cell phone asking for help. While waiting for Rycart to pick him up at the motel, the writer does research on Emmett and links his think tank to a military contractor. He also finds leads that connect Emmett to the CIA. When Rycart arrives, he reveals that McAra gave him documents linking Lang to torture flights, and that claimed he had found something new which he wrote about in the "beginning" of the manuscript. The men cannot, however, find anything in the early pages. The writer and Rycart further discuss Emmett's relationship with Lang, with Rycart recounting how Lang's decisions uniformly benefited U.S. interests when he was Prime Minister. When the writer is summoned to accompany Lang on the return flight with a private Hatherton jet aircraft, he confronts Lang and accuses him of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett. Lang derides his suggestions.

Upon leaving the aircraft, Lang is assassinated by a British anti-war protester, who is in turn shot by Lang's bodyguards. Despite Lang's death, the writer is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication, as in light of the assassination it will be a certain best-seller. During the book's launch party in London, Amelia unwittingly tells the writer that the Americans tightened access to the book, as the "beginnings" contained evidence that threatened national security. She also tells him that Emmett was Ruth's tutor when she was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard. The writer realises that the clues were hidden in the original manuscript at the beginning of each chapter, and discovers the message, "Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University." He concludes that Ruth shaped Lang's every political decision to benefit the U.S. under direction from the CIA.

The writer passes a note to Ruth telling of his discovery. She unfolds the note, and is devastated. When she sees the writer raising a glass, she is kept from following him by Emmett and other assistants. As the writer leaves the party he attempts to take a taxi, without success, and as he crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction, and sound effects and flying papers indicate that he has been hit.


Non-fictional allusions

Pierce Brosnan plays the character of Adam Lang, who like in the novel, is a veiled portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The character is linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war on terror and the special relationship with the United States.[5]

Robert Pugh, who portrayed Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart, and Mo Asumang, who played the US Secretary of State, both physically resemble their real-life counterparts, Robin Cook and Condoleezza Rice. Like the fictional Rycart, Cook had foreign policy differences with the British Prime Minister. The old man living on Martha's Vineyard is an allegorical representation of Robert McNamara.[6]


Polanski had originally teamed with Robert Harris for a film of Harris's novel Pompeii,[7] but the project was cancelled because of the looming actors' strike that autumn.[8][9]

Polanski and Harris then turned to Harris' current best seller, The Ghost. They co-wrote a script and in November 2007, just after the book's release, Polanski announced filming for autumn 2008.[10] In June 2008, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, and Kim Cattrall were announced as the stars.[11] Production was then postponed by a number of months, with Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams replacing Cage and Swinton as a result.

The film finally began production in February 2009 in Germany, at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. Germany stood in for London and Martha's Vineyard due to Polanski's inability to legally travel to those places, as Polanski had fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. The majority of exteriors, set on Martha's Vineyard, were shot on the island of Sylt in the North Sea, and on the ferry MS SyltExpress. The exterior set of the house where much of the film takes place, however, was built on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea. Exteriors and interiors set at a publishing house in London were shot at Charlottenstrasse 47 in downtown Berlin (Mitte), while Strausberg Airport near Berlin stood in for the Vineyard airport.[12] A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.

On his way to the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009 at the request of the U.S. and held for extradition on a 1978 arrest warrant. Due to Polanski's arrest, post-production was briefly put on hold, but he resumed and completed work from house arrest at his Swiss villa. He was unable to participate in the film's world premiere at the Berlinale festival on February 12, 2010.[13]


The film premièred at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010,[14] and was widely released throughout much of Europe during the following four weeks. It went on general release in the US on 19 March 2010 and in the UK on 16 April 2010.[15]


The film has received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 83% of critics gave positive reviews based on a sample of 198 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10.[16] Its consensus notes that, "While it may lack the revelatory punch of Polanski's finest films, Ghost Writer benefits from stylish direction, a tense screenplay, and a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor."[16] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an average rating of 77% based on 35 reviews.[17] For Andrew Sarris the film "constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience."[18] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and declared: "This movie is the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller."[19]

Journalist/blogger William Bradley has dubbed it "one of the best films I've seen in recent years" in a review for The Huffington Post that dealt with the film's artistic and political dimensions.[20] The Guardian said: "Roman Polanski's deft take on Robert Harris's political thriller is the director's most purely enjoyable film for years."[21]

Writing for LAS Magazine, Theon Weber gave the film a 6.8/10 rating and called it "a thriller with topical ambitions; it takes place in a jittery, bomb-fearing Britain and America, often in airports or official buildings, where the weary rituals of security screenings refuse to let the characters or the audience relax."[22]

However, John Rentoul from the UK's The Independent, who describes himself as an "ultra Blairite with a slavish admiration for Tony", and John Rosenthal, from the conservative Pajamas Media, both denounced the film because it was made with financial support from the German government. Rentoul also launched a scathing attack on Polanski describing the winner of Berlin's Silver Bear as "propaganda" and a "Blair hating movie".[23] Still, what the critics did not explain was that although the production company, Elfte Babelsberg Film GmbH, received 3.5 million from the German state,[24] any major film production within Germany is entitled to apply for financial assistance from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF); the grant is not required to be repaid.[25] Because of that, numerous English spoken films have been at least partially shot in Germany over the last two decades, e.g. The Bourne Supremacy (film),The Bourne Ultimatum (film), Aeon Flux (film), Valkyrie (film), The Pianist (2002 film), The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Constant Gardener (film), Unknown (2011 film), Inglorious Basterds, Anonymous (film), etc.


The movie has won numerous awards, particularly for Roman Polanski as director, Ewan McGregor in the lead role, and Olivia Williams as Adam Lang's wife.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Ghost Writer (2010)".  
  2. ^ 6 April 2010: "Free Preview Screening the Ghost in Dublin" Retrieved 2012-01-30
  3. ^ IMDb: The Ghost Writer main details Retrieved 2012-01-30
  4. ^ Brooks, Xan (5 December 2010). "Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer dominates European awards".  
  5. ^  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Variety 1 February 2007: Polanski propels 'Pompeii' Retrieved 2012-01-30
  8. ^ Rotten Tomatoes 12 September 2007: Roman Polanski Flees Pompeii Retrieved 2012-01-30
  9. ^ Mr. Beaks (March 5, 2010). "Mr. Beaks Interrogates The Ghost Writer Novelist-Screenwriter Robert Harris!".  
  10. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (November 7, 2007). "'"Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost. Variety. 
  11. ^ Fleming, Michael (June 25, 2008). "'"Cage, Brosnan see Polanski's 'Ghost. Variety. 
  12. ^ Database (undated). "Filming Locations for The Ghost Writer (2010)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  13. ^ Verschuur, Paul; Pettersson, Edvard (September 28, 2009). "Polanski Arrested in Switzerland on 1978 U.S. Warrant (Correct)".  
  14. ^ Berlin Film Festival Program
  15. ^ IMDb: Release dates for The Ghost Writer Retrieved 2012-01-30
  16. ^ a b "Ghost Writer Movie Reviews, Pictures".  
  17. ^ "Ghost Writer, The (2010): Reviews". Metacritic.  
  18. ^
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Bradley, William (March 22, 2010). "The Ghost(s): Of Tony Blair, Roman Polanski, and A War on Terror". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  21. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (12 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Weber, Theon (March 9, 2010). "The Ghost Writer".  
  23. ^  
  24. ^ "List of grant approvals from the German Federal Film Fund (2009)". Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Retrieved March 5, 2011. 
  25. ^ "German Federal Film Fund (DFFF)". Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Retrieved March 5, 2011. 

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