Clinton saga hits the silver screen

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Now there are two mysteries to rivet the intersecting, mutually sustaining worlds of American politics, publishing and Hollywood. Not just who wrote the book - but who will play Bill and Hillary Clinton in the movie?

The inevitable has happened: Primary Colors, the roman-a-clef based on the 1992 Clinton election campaign that is this winter's US publishing smash, will shortly be hitting the cinema screens, courtesy of Mike Nichols, the producer-director of The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge fame. Yesterday the New York Times said Nichols bought the film rights for more than $1m (pounds 660,000) from the publisher, Random House, bringing the total earnings for ``Anonymous'', the author of Primary Colors, to well over $3m - not bad for a book whose initial print run was 60,000, with an author's advance of just $200,000.

But then, by common consent, Primary Colors is dazzlingly written - hilariously funny and conveying to a "T" the lunatic, nicotine and adrenalin-fuelled frenzy of a modern political campaign. But what sets it truly apart are the characters - unmistakably the cast of 1992, portrayed with such uncanny accuracy that only a political insider, or a reporter who covered the campaign - could have written it. But what journalists ever kept their name a secret?

In the novel, there is Jack Stanton, a young Southern Governor on his quest for the Democratic nomination; he is a charmer, philanderer and dissembler, flawed yet magnetic as Bill Clinton himself. As Anonymous writes, describing the real-life Clinton presence to perfection, he "fixes an audience with paralytic intensity, sucking the air out of the room''.

Stanton's wife, Susan, is Hillary in boilerplating, coolest and hardest of her husband's advisers, whose first words about him in Primary Colors run thus: "Jack Stanton could be a great man, if he weren't such a faithless, thoughtless, disorganised, undisciplined shit.''

Then comes a supporting cast, transparent to anyone who followed the 1992 campaign: Orlando Ozio (Mario Cuomo), a state governor who dithers endlessly before deciding not to run; the narrator Henry Burton, aside from his fictional black skin the spitting image of George Stephanopoulos, a close adviser of Mr Clinton. In one presumed departure from real life, a bewildered Henry is actually bedded by the governor's wife.

Gennifer Flowers is turned into Cashmere McLeod ("The Governor see- dyou-ced me," she tells a New York press conference). There is a hilarious James Carville (Mr Stephanopoulos's comrade in the ``War Room'' in Little Rock, called Mammoth Falls in the novel) - and dozens of others.

So who wrote it? The hottest accolade in Washington right now is to be considered a suspect. The author's identity is said to be known only to his agent, not even to Harold Evans, president of Random House. One pointer could be a Democratic political operative who suddenly starts acting rich.

As for the casting, why not bring in Bill, Hillary and the gang - assuming they lose in November? It would the complete fusion of politics and showbiz.

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