A Closed Book (15)

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The Independent Culture

Shades of The Servant and Sleuth flit around this uneven two-hander set in an extravagant Gothic mansion.

Tom Conti plays a reclusive writer and critic who, blinded in a car accident, requires an amanuensis to help him write his final book. In a young(ish) American woman (Daryl Hannah) he seems to have found the ideal candidate – polite, literate and willing to put up with his occasional grouchiness. But gradually she reveals herself as less than friendly, upsetting the furniture, throwing his books on the fire and telling him needless lies. The atmosphere is akin to those 1970s TV dramas, such as Tales of the Unexpected or Armchair Thriller, and startling cameos by the likes of Elaine Paige and Simon MacCorkindale root it even deeper in a certain mildewed Englishness. Yet Gilbert Adair's script, adapted from his own novel, makes sharp little jabs, like springs through a horsehair sofa. Reminiscing on meeting Madonna at a garden party, Conti says dryly, "She hung on my every other word." The plot is stagey, and the denouement ridiculous, but its sheer unlikeliness is what also keeps you hanging in there.