The Ghost Writer (film)

The Ghost Writer (released as The Ghost in the United Kingdom and Ireland)[2] is a 2010 Franco-German-British political thriller film directed by Roman Polanski. The film is an adaptation of a 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 Ghost Writer
The Ghost Writer poster.png
US film poster
Directed byRoman Polanski
Produced byRoman Polanski
Robert Benmussa
Alain Sarde
Screenplay byRobert Harris
Roman Polanski
Based onThe Ghost
by Robert Harris
StarringEwan McGregor
Pierce Brosnan
Kim Cattrall
Olivia Williams
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Hutton
Jon Bernthal
Tim Preece
Robert Pugh
David Rintoul
Eli Wallach
Music byAlexandre Desplat
CinematographyPaweł Edelman
Edited byHervé de Luze
Distributed bySummit Entertainment (United States)
Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
Release date
  • 12 February 2010 (2010-02-12) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • 18 February 2010 (2010-02-18) (Germany)
  • 3 March 2010 (2010-03-03) (France)
  • 16 April 2010 (2010-04-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$45 million[1]
Box office$60.2 million[1]

The film was a critical and commercial success and 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 ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is hired by publishing firm Rhinehart, Inc. to complete the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The writer's predecessor and Lang's aide, Mike McAra, has recently died in an apparent drowning accident. The writer travels to Old Haven on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Lang and his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) are staying, along with Lang's personal assistant (and implied mistress), Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), and staff. Amelia forbids the writer from taking McAra's manuscript outside, emphasising that it is a security risk.

Shortly after the writer's arrival, former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh) accuses Lang of authorising the illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over to be tortured by the CIA, a possible war crime. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless he stays in the United States (or one of the few other countries that do not recognise the court's jurisdiction). While Lang is in Washington, D.C., the writer finds items in McAra's room suggesting he might have stumbled across a dark secret. Among them is an envelope containing photographs and a phone number the writer discovers is Rycart's.

During a bike ride, the writer encounters an old man (Eli Wallach) who tells him 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 a neighbour saw flashlights on the beach the night McAra died, but she later fell down the stairs and lapsed into a coma.

Later, Ruth admits to the writer that Lang had never been very political and until recently always took 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 reveals Lang and McAra had argued the night before the latter's death. The writer and Ruth have a one night stand while Adam is away.

The next morning, the writer takes the BMW X5[5] McAra used on his last journey. Unable to cancel the pre-programmed directions on the car's sat-nav, he decides to follow them. He arrives in Belmont, Massachusetts at the home of Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson).

Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang, despite the writer's showing him two pictures of the pair among photographs found in McAra's possessions, as well as pointing out a more recent one on the wall of Emmett's study. When the writer tells Emmett the sat-nav proves McAra visited him the night he died, Emmett denies meeting McAra and becomes evasive.

The writer leaves and successfully eludes a car that is pursuing him. He boards the ferry back to Martha's Vineyard, but when he sees the pursuit car drive aboard, he flees the boat at the last moment and checks into a small motel by the ferry dock.

With no one else to turn to, the writer redials Rycart's number and asks for help. While waiting, the writer researches Emmett, and finds links between Emmett's think tank and a military contractor. He also finds leads connecting Emmett to the CIA. When Rycart arrives, Rycart reveals McAra gave him documents linking Lang to so-called "torture flights", in which terrorist suspects were placed on private jets owned by Emmett's company to be tortured while airborne.

Rycart further claims that McAra found new evidence, which he wrote about in the "beginnings" of the manuscript. The men cannot, however, find anything in the early pages. The writer discusses Emmett's relationship with Lang, while Rycart recounts how Lang's decisions as Prime Minister uniformly benefited US interests.

When the writer is summoned to accompany Lang on his return flight by private jet, 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. Nevertheless, the writer is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication, as in light of Lang's death it will be a certain best-seller.

Amelia invites the writer to the book's launch party in London, where she unwittingly tells him the Americans tightened access to the book, as the "beginnings" contained evidence threatening national security. She also tells him Emmett, who is in attendance, was Ruth's tutor when she was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard.

The writer realizes the clues were hidden in the original manuscript, in the opening words 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 Ruth shaped Lang's every political decision to benefit the United States under direction from the CIA.

The writer passes a note to Ruth revealing his discovery. She unfolds the note and is devastated. She sees the writer raising a glass to her but is kept from following him by Emmett and other assistants.

The writer leaves the party and attempts to hail a taxi, without success. As he crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction, and a thud is heard. Witnesses react in horror, and the pages containing McAra's manuscript scatter in the wind. The film ends, leaving the writer's fate unconfirmed.


Non-fictional allusionsEdit

Pierce Brosnan plays the character of Adam Lang, who has echoes 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. The author of the book on which the film is based has said he was inspired at least in part by anger toward Blair's policies, and calls for him to face war crimes trials.[6]

Robert Pugh, who portrayed the former British 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 a reference to Robert McNamara.[7] Hatherton Corporation alludes to real-life Halliburton.


Polanski had originally teamed with Robert Harris for a film of Harris's novel Pompeii,[8] but the project was cancelled because of the looming actors' strike that autumn.[9][10]

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.[11] In June 2008, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, and Kim Cattrall were announced as the stars.[12] Production was then postponed by a number of months, with Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams replacing Cage and Swinton, respectively, as a result.

The North Sea ferry MS SyltExpress that was used as the Martha's Vineyard ferry in the film.

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 U.S. 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.[13] A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.[14]

On his way to the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009 at the request of the US 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 12 February 2010.[15]


The film premièred at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010,[16] 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.[17]


The film has received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 84% of critics gave positive reviews based on a sample of 196 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10.[18] 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."[18] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an average rating of 77% based on 35 reviews.[19] For Andrew Sarris the film "constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience."[20] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and declared: "This movie is the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller."[21]

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.[22] The Guardian said: "Roman Polanski's deft take on Robert Harris's political thriller is the director's most purely enjoyable film for years."[23] Writing for LAS Magazine, Theon Weber gave the film a 6.8 (of 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."[24]

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".[25] 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,[26] any major film production within Germany is entitled to apply for financial assistance from the German Federal Film Fund [de]. Since the assistance is considered a grant, there is no requirement that it be repaid.[27] As a result of this funding policy, numerous English-language films have been at least partially shot in Germany over the last two decades, among them The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Æon Flux, Valkyrie, The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Constant Gardener, Unknown, Inglourious Basterds, and Anonymous.


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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The Ghost Writer (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  2. ^ 6 April 2010: "Free Preview Screening the Ghost in Dublin". Retrieved 30 January 2012
  3. ^ IMDb: The Ghost Writer main details. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  4. ^ Brooks, Xan (5 December 2010). "Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer dominates European awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  5. ^ "2009 BMW X5 xDrive30d [E70] in The Ghost Writer, Movie (2010)". IMDb.
  6. ^ Barbara Plett (19 March 2010). "How Realistic Is New Polanski Film The Ghost?". BBC News. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  7. ^ French, Philip (18 April 2010). "The Ghost—Roman Polanski's Immaculately Crafted Adaptation of Robert Harris's Bestseller Is a Chilling and Sinister Study of Power". The Observer. London. Retrieved 5 March 2011. Oddly, as co-adaptors, Polanski and Harris have played down a character carefully signalled in the book. In the film, the 94-year-old Eli Wallach plays an elderly Vineyard resident who gives the ghost writer some vital information concerning the cove where the previous writer's corpse washed up. In the novel, he is clearly identified as the former secretary of state Robert McNamara by his rimless glasses and hairstyle, his statement about war crimes ("We could all have been charged with those. Maybe we should have been.") and a reference to a real event in 1972: "Hell, a guy tried to throw me off that damn ferry when I was still at the World Bank." This explains Harris's curious, ludic choice of the name McAra for the original ghost in the novel.
  8. ^ Variety 1 February 2007: Polanski propels 'Pompeii'. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  9. ^ Rotten Tomatoes 12 September 2007: Roman Polanski Flees Pompeii. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  10. ^ Mr. Beaks (5 March 2010). "Mr. Beaks Interrogates The Ghost Writer Novelist-Screenwriter Robert Harris!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  11. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (7 November 2007). "Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost'". Variety.
  12. ^ Fleming, Michael (25 June 2008). "Cage, Brosnan see Polanski's 'Ghost'". Variety.
  13. ^ Database (undated). "Filming Locations for The Ghost Writer (2010)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  14. ^ The end credits list Wellfleet, Provincetown and Bourne, Massachusetts
  15. ^ Verschuur, Paul; Pettersson, Edvard (28 September 2009). "Polanski Arrested in Switzerland on 1978 U.S. Warrant (Correct)". Bloomberg. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  16. ^ Berlin Film Festival Program
  17. ^ IMDb: Release dates for The Ghost Writer. Retrieved 30 January 2012
  18. ^ a b "Ghost Writer Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  19. ^ "Ghost Writer, The (2010): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  20. ^ Archived 9 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger (24 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  22. ^ Bradley, William (22 March 2010). "The Ghost(s): Of Tony Blair, Roman Polanski, and A War on Terror". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  23. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (12 February 2010). "The Ghost Writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  24. ^ Weber, Theon (9 March 2010). "The Ghost Writer". LAS Magazine. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  25. ^ Rentoul, John (26 May 2010). "I Was Wrong About The Ghost". Independent Minds (blog via LiveJournal). Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ "List of grant approvals from the German Federal Film Fund (2009)" (PDF). Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  27. ^ "German Federal Film Fund (DFFF)". Deutscher Filmförderfonds. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2011.

External linksEdit