The Ghost Writer is one of those political conspiracy films which is firmly rooted in fiction but makes enough references to real people and real events to create the illusion of something more sinister.
In The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor is hired to provide a final edit to former UK Prime Minister Adam Lang's memoirs. McGregor's predecessor had gone missing in action and ended up washed up on a beach in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Lang is a thinly veiled allusion to Tony Blair; his wife Ruth to Cherie Blair, and the disillusioned (and bearded) former Foreign Secretary, Richard Rycart, was clearly based on Robin Cook, albeit a version who had not died whilst walking in Scotland.
The basic premise is good. The Ghost Writer inadvertently uncovers more and more secrets as he goes along - never acting as an investigative journalist but merely satisfying his own curiosity. The level of menace is good. Right from the outset, the Martha's Vineyard setting is used to create claustrophobia. The Ghost Writer is surrounded by evil forces that lurk barely seen, right in the periphery of vision. The locations are terrific, the camera shots are stunning and the wilderness setting is slightly reminiscent of Wallender.
The actual plot seems plausible at first. Adam Lang is a man obsessed by legacy and having the final say. He is dogged by accusations of having colluded in war crimes and seeks the protection of a private and secure beach house whilst making the occasional foray out onto the US speaker circuit. He has a great sense of control freakery and a vicious temper. And, quite usefully, he has a man to run along behind him and pick up the things he breaks in fits of pique.
But as the levels of conspiracy grow, holes in the plot start to appear. Fundamentally, the central assumptions behind the conspiracy make no sense. Why would people have behaved as they apparently did in the past - and why are they taking things so seriously now? The evidence that the Ghost Writer finds consists of little more than an unfounded allegation by the previous Ghost Writer and a couple of photos suggesting that Lang's claim to have entered politics to win Ruth's heart were not strictly true. In reality, inconsistencies between Adam Lang's official story and actual facts could be brushed away as poetic licence; the allegations had no supporting evidence and Lang's subsequent political career was what it was - conducted in the public gaze and subject to public accountability. In other words, it is all a bit of a storm in a teacup. But if you can go along with the story line it does make for some genuinely suspenseful scenes and a memorable ending.
The one aspect that really did grate was the Richard Rycart/Robin Cook character. The real Robin Cook had not supported Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq and resigned from the Government. He did so with sadness and dignity. He did not cause mayhem from the back benches; he did not seek to embarrass Tony Blair or the Labour Party. He took a principled position and stood by it. Rycart, however, is portrayed as a bitter and scheming man intent on pursuing a personal vendetta against Lang (who had sacked him). Robin Cook deserved better treatment than this.
So, as political fiction this does score reasonably well - but please don't mistake it for fact.