Ghost: Creepily excellent in so many ways

Roman Polanski’s movie is an excellent account of Robert Harris’s book. But it is even more of a post-modern experience.

I am always quite prone to inhabiting the characters I watch on the screen. It was most pronounced whilst watching Steve McQueen, especially in Bullitt. Dream on, etc. 

I have often day-dreamed about being Tony Blair’s ghost-writer (and general political guru, come to that). I can’t say I fancied myself as Ewan McGregor, however. He didn’t do the job of inhabiting the ghost badly, but there was something a little Norman Wisdom about his performance. I found it hard to be believe the rather severe and knowing Olivia Williams (in the Cherie Blair character) would put out for him. He didn’t quite convey the worldy-wise, world-weary soul who knew about the whole wide world but not – as it happens – politics. He was too much the larky innocent.

I decided in advance that I would accept Pierce Brosnan in the Tony Blair character. I know Brosnan is capable of self-deprecating wit, and I thought that a certain implaccable impeccable blandness might be quite suitable for the Blair figure, and well within Brosnan’s quite small range. Indeed, to be cruel about it, to capture the enigma of Blair, it was quite an advantage to be an actor who hasn’t a very plausibe interiority.

But what an extraordinary film this is. I spent a good deal of the time wondering what it would be like to be the real Blair, both in real life in general and if he were watching this film in particular. I can think of no other real-life person who has had to watch his imagined but entirely plausible assassination. 

There is of course the long-standing Blair conundrum that he is a real-life character who has been so much on display and yet contrived to remain so private. He is larger than life and yet also spectral. But he now has to contemplate a story in which his seeming emptiness and real actorliness is enacted and contemplated and leveraged into a thriller in which it is postulated that he is assassinated. This must have been one of the lurking anxieties of the real-life Blair. Of course, it is possible that Blair years ago learned how to put his public persona out there as a through-going substitute for his own self. It may be that his openness is a deliberate carapace. I have always thought that Tony Blair’s transparency was purposively opaque.

There is a further amusing and teasing twist. In the movie the Cherie Blair figure has, let us say, a more important role than Cherie is generally supposed to have had in real life. If I were her I would rather angry because the implication is that whilst Tony is of interest to everybody more or less whan accurately portrayed (as the world supposes) the woman’s role has – as usual, she may say – to be bent all out of shape to be fictionally attractive. And a winsome attractiveness remains, damn it, a large part of the cocktail.

I would add very tentatively that this is a thoroughly European (not really Anglo-saxon) film, but it has big dollops of Hitchcock in it.

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Publication date

07 May 2010