UK premiere: So, just who is the real Charlie Wilson?

Hollywood brings life of playboy who humbled Red Army to the big screen
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The Independent Culture

All week, anticipation has built for the UK opening on Wednesday of Charlie Wilson's War, the film about the Democrat congressman from Texas who supplied the weapons that shot Soviet helicopters out of the sky, and thus the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

Unusually for a Hollywood movie, it clings pretty tenaciously to the facts. But if your raw material is the life of Charles Nesbitt Wilson, there's not much need to embroider. Elected to Congress in 1972, he was a liberal with a taste for booze and attractive young women, neither of which he ever showed the slightest hesitation in indulging.

But the playboy (who rarely entered a hot tub alone) was also a patriot, and the film begins the key Afghan episode of his life with his partner in the enterprise: Texan socialite and unlikely adviser to the Pakistani dictator General Zia, Joanna Herring (played by Julia Roberts). Herring captivated Wilson and fuelled his fears about Communism after the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

The film, directed by Mike Nichols, who made The Graduate, and written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, tells how Wilson spearheaded a decade-long operation to arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The Berlin Wall came down just nine months after the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan and, in the words of General Zia: "Charlie did it."

Now 74, Wilson is an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, but has no regrets about his operation in Afghanistan. Instead, he blames the US government for not seeing the job through to the end.