The Ghost Writer is a thriller directed by Roman Polański in 2010, based on the novel by Robert Harris.
The Ghost (Ewan McGregor) makes his living telling other people's stories. He is around 40 years old and specialises in writing famous people's biographies. He has just received a lucrative offer: he is supposed to finish the autobiography of Adam Lang, the former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). The previous ghost-writer of the book recently died under unexplained circumstances and the materials he left are not suitable for publication. The Ghost is supposed to give the book its final shape. When he arrives at the island where the former Prime Minister's mansion is located, he has to face a political scandal. The Ghost discovers Lang's secret old relations, which puts his life in danger.
When Roman Polański finished working on the adaptation of Dicken's Oliver Twist in 2005, he started looking for material for his next film. His attention was drawn to a Robert Harris's book about Pompeii, a novel with elements of history, politics, romance and crime. In 2006 Polański bought the rights to the story, but production problems made him put the project aside. However, it did not mean the end of cooperation with Robert Harris. Polański became interested in another novel by Harris, The Ghost, a political thriller written to express rebellion against Tony Blair administration.
Paul Werner, Polański's biographer, wrote that Harris used to be Tony Blair's admirer and a close friend. However, in consequence of Great Britain going to war in Iraq, he became one of Blair's fiercest critics. He was outraged like a disappointed lover and he gave vent to his anger and frustration at what he had previously expected of this liberal of the Labour Party and the later 'Bush's poodle' in an excellent thriller in which he did not mind any acquaintances.
Maybe that is what we should do next. No volcanoes, no Ancient Romans – allegedly, this is how Harris tried to persuade Polański to adapt The Ghost for screen.
Polański was easily persuaded since he sensed the novel could be a good basis for a film thriller with strong political overtones. Polański and Harris did not hide that the key to their work was the current British and American political situation. In The Ghost Writer Blair was shown as a puppet in the hands of the American president and his wife as a femme fatale with considerable influence on politics.
Polański started working on The Ghost Writer in 2008, but the problems caused by screenwriters' strike caused the delay of filming. As a result, part of the originally settled cast changed. The main character was eventually played by Ewan McGregor instead of Nicolas Cage and his wife was not played by Tilda Swinton but Olivia Williams. Pierce Bronsan got a great role that suited him perfectly. He played the former British Prime Minister. The strong point of the film were also the well-chosen supporting actors: James Belushi, Timothy Hutton and Eli Wallach.
Despite the fact that the action was supposed to take place in the United States, the whole story was filmed in Europe. The impressive mansion of the former Prime Minister was created in the German studio Babelsberg and the picturesque views from the window were added as special effects.
The Ghost Writer impressed with the directing abilities that Polański showed in presenting the political intrigue, with a little bit old-fashioned music by Alexandre Desplat and with the disturbing air which can be sensed from the very beginning to the very end of the film. It is no wonder that in 2010 Polański received the Silver Bear for Best Director during the Berlin International Film Festival. The Ghost Writer was also awarded four César Awards and as much as six European Film Awards (for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Production Designer, Best Composer and Best Actor).
However, the Polish critics were not unanimous. Robert Ziębiński wrote in 'Newsweek':
In Polański's film there are not any characters or a credible course of events. There are only structural errors and improbable resolutions resembling the ones from retro crime films made in the 40s in which the protagonist would manage to overcome adversities thanks to a superhuman effort.
Similar opinions, though rather less bitter, appeared in the reviews of some other critics. However, most of journalists were impressed by The Ghost Writer. That is what Jan Wróblewski wrote about the film in 'Polityka':
In the film we can find everything that Polański loves and that his viewers are used to. There is the specific claustrophobic atmosphere resembling the one from Kafka's novels. There is an embattled protagonist: an unfulfilled man of letters hired to write Lang's biography; a plot which blends reality with nightmare; the motif of fate being a trap (well-known for example from Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Tenant); a labyrinth in which the people get lost and a loss of identity caused by an excessive admiration of someone else's personality.
The Ghost Writer was first screened in 2010 and the premiere was accompanied by a media scandal. The Polish director was then in a house arrest in Gstaad in Switzerland where he was waiting for the settling of the process of extradition requested by the USA. That might have been the reason why the film turned out to be a box office hit. It grossed 60 million dollars and it became one of Polański's most bankable films.
- The Ghost Writer. Direction: Roman Polański. Screenplay: Robert Harris, Roman Polański. Camerawork: Paweł Edelman. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, James Belushi, Kim Cattrall. Premiere: February 19, 2010.
Originally written in Polish by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, July 2017, translated by MW, April 2018.