Sunday, 7 March 2010

Polanski and Blair, so many questions, so many fascinating answers

It’s been instructive, during a swift trip to France, to go and see Roman Polanski’s film Ghost Writer. It is based on the novel Ghost by Robert Harris, and the novelist’s involvement in preparing the screenplay no doubt helps explain why the film is so close to the book – the only significant changes are on those points which really can’t be translated to the screen.

The experience was instructive because it prompted two sets of questions.

First, the content. Book and film concern a fictitious former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang. When we discover that during a ten-year period in office, Lang took Britain into an unprofitable war in Iraq at the behest of a right-wing American Administration, we can presumably all make an educated guess at the real-life figure behind the fiction.

Essentially, the book and film raise a question, perhaps best summed up in what one of the characters asks: is there any single act carried out by Lang that was not completely in line with US interests? I’d put it even more strongly: how would things have been different, at least in foreign policy, had Blair been operating entirely under the control of Washington?

But there’s a second series of questions raised by the film, and particularly by seeing it in France. It is extraordinarily popular out here. An afternoon showing was packed, and as we trooped out at the end, the crowd was already pressing to get in for the next one. With a theme so British, or at any rate ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (as the French put it), it was hard to understand why France had taken to it so strongly. The friends who came with us explained that it’s the Polanski angle: an adoptive Frenchman, in trouble with the law, attracts French interest and probably sympathy.

So question number one is, why should a fugitive from the law, convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, be a focus of sympathy if he’s an internationally celebrated film director, when he wouldn’t be if he were, say, an unemployed inhabitant of the tough districts of our post-industrial cities who had himself been a victim of abuse?

But perhaps a far more interesting question is why we’re so tough on people regarded as paedophiles – there have been many cases of vigilante action against them – when there are no doubt other people, like Polanski, who committed a single offence, and one involving no violence, and have gone on to live productive and enriching lives ever since?

I suspect it says a lot about each of us which of these questions we feel needs answering first.

The film is good by the way, and I found the book enthralling.


Awoogamuffin said...

Everyone knows it isn't statutory rape if you make good films

David Beeson said...

I'm not convinced that Polanski could get much from that defence