The Ghost, the film by Roman Polanski adapted from the political thriller by Robert Harris, is out from Monday 20 September on DVD and Blu-ray. This is a short extract from an interview by Martyn Palmer with Harris that its publicists have released.
Q: Talk me through your connection with Tony Blair. You were friends weren’t you?
A: Well yes, I suppose we were friends. I met him in 92, when he was Labour employment spokesman. We had lunch. We kept in touch. He became leader of the party.
Q: Were you still a journalist at that point?
A: Yes, I was doing a column for the Sunday Times. And his office - Anji Hunter (former Blair adviser) - rang me up saying he’d like to see you and so I said, ‘Ok, let’s have lunch ‘ and he came the next week. He obviously had ideas about what he’d like to do and he saw me as a like-minded journalist that he wanted to make his number with. Not long after, I gave up my column because Fatherland came up. In fact, Tony came to the launch party for Fatherland in 1992. And I gave up journalism for a while because of writing that novel. Then he became leader of the party and I resumed my column on the Sunday Times and I used to talk to him quite often. And I saw him and travelled round with him in the 97 elections. And I think my wife and I were at the first dinner party that he and Cherie gave at Chequers after they won the election. Yes, so we were close. I liked him because he seemed a member of the human race, actually. And he spoke sense. He was pragmatic. He was approachable. He’d drop the kids off at school in the mornings. He liked a drink. He was in every respect, a regular guy and I was stunned at the Chilcot inquiry to see this automaton-like remote figure who seemed to come from another planet surrounded by security, isolated and so on. And that aspect - it isn’t I hope, in The Ghost, just the war crimes thing - it’s the isolation of the former leader; remote, removed from the common mass, that I think the film really does get across.
Q: I think you make a great point in the press notes about Churchill moving from Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament with one police officer.
A: Yes, Tommy Thompson, a plain clothes man behind him with one revolver.
Q: And now they are rather cut off from the world..
A: Yes, it’s ridiculous. I find it offensive actually.
Q: But that removal from ordinary life is partly what you were writing about wasn’t it?
A: Yes, which I think has got worse and worse. And, of course, I appreciate that, in an age of terrorism there has to be protection, but it does seem to me to have got slightly out of control and is profoundly undemocratic and I never go through airport security with my shoes in one hand and my pathetic plastic bag of toothpaste in the other- and now we’ve got the added indignity of full body scanners - without thinking, “Somewhere in this airport, one of the buggers that got us into this is being whisked through VIP with their body guards out onto the tarmac onto a private plane. Not going through any of this. And we are supposed to be the masters in this democracy. Not them.” And I find that it really embodies the gap that has opened up in modern society between the rulers and the ruled.
Q: And that was what you wanted to explore in the book?
A Yes, very much so.
Q: And just to be clear in my mind. When you were writing Adam Lang, did you start out with Blair in mind?
A: Well the book is a satire and its meant to have a comedic undertone as indeed the film does too. It’s not meant to be look-alike. It’s not like The Queen in which Tony Blair is a character and I’m imagining him in the future, because this is a separate fictional character. But, of course, there are elements of Blair and Blair’s situation in there and I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. But I’m not trying to suggest that Blair might have been an agent of the CIA or that he’s knocking off his assistant or any of that. It’s a story, but it’s midway - and I hope people will appreciate this- it’s midway between reality and fiction, with the fiction drawing on reality and moulding the two. So Adam Lang is not Blair but he shares certain of Blair’s characteristics, clearly, and the dates are more or less the same and the war and this impending possibility of prosecution. And also the sense that here is a Prime Minister who would have done nothing that would have potentially offended the Americans. He might as well have been an American in Downing Street.
Q: Are you pleased with Polanski’s vision of your story?
A: Yes, I must say that I’m thrilled with it. And I hope that everyone will like it, the critics and that the audience will go, but even if they don’t, I’ll always have the DVD of it and I like it. And I think it’s got what I hoped was the spirit of the book, which is a sense a bit like Hitchcock in North by Northwest of something that’s scary, funny and I hope witty at the same time, slightly sophisticated, fast moving. A piece of entertainment and consciously so. It is itself, if you know what I mean. It creates its own world. It’s not meant to be completely naturalistic. It’s a thriller and it’s of its genre and I think the thing I most liked about it is that you sit and watch it and 2 hours and 8 minutes have gone and it doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t drag.
The Ghost is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 20 September by Optimum Releasing.