A Closed Book


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Act 2 spoilers below. Act 3 is not spoiled, at least not in that sense of the word. (It is spoiled by its bad writing, but that's a whole 'nother kettle o' crawdads.)

A Closed Book is essentially a stage play in three acts with two characters, similar in many ways to Sleuth.

In Act 1 we meet a crotchety old English art critic who has lost his sight in an accident. The curmugeon hopes to write one more book, an autobiography, but being blind he needs an amanuensis. As the film begins, he is interviewing a 40ish woman named Jane for the position. She accepts the job, which consists of living with him in a massive gothic mansion (played by Knebworth House) and typing as he dictates. Things progress in a normal, predictable way for some thirty minutes, with no indication that the film will be a thriller or a mystery. This act relies on the verbal interaction between the characters to grab and hold our attention.


Things start to get weird in Act 2. As the pair works together in a late night session, the blind man asks his amanuensis to put another log on the fire. She responds by feeding the flames with his first edition Thackeray. She continues to deceive him in various ways. She brings him the wrong jigsaw puzzle from a museum gift shop. She gives the housekeeper a week off so that he has no other contact with the outside world, then she pretends to read him the newspaper, but actually just fabricates absurd stories - e.g. "Donald Trump has become a Muslim." As the act winds down, her pranks gradually turn more malicious.

In Act 3, all the mysteries are unveiled and we are finally allowed to see what is really going on. There is a rapid-fire series of plot twists.

This screenplay was adapted from a highly regarded literary thriller, but it has to be considered a failure and a disappointment, especially considering that the author of the eponymous novel, Gilbert Blair, also authored the screenplay and managed to turn his much-praised book into a dreary little film.

There is essentially nothing happening in Act 1 except set-up, so the author needs to catch our attention with an intriguing premise and hold it with some sharp dialogue. He does neither. The crotchety blind luddite, played by Tom Conti, is a literary cliché and his genius is never evident to us. Oh, we are told he is a genius, but that is demonstrated neither by witty dialogue nor by brilliant excerpts from his inchoate new book, which actually seems to be nothing more than stuffy posturing. If the alleged genius is merely lacking in evidence of genius, his secretary seems to be lacking evidence of a personality. The Act 1 dialogues between the pontificating bully and the deferential cipher turn out to be predictably mundane. Their interaction assumes a formulaic rhythm which consists of his verbal belligerence, followed by her obsequious apologies, followed by his own guilt-laden excuses for the offense he continually seems to generate.

Act 2 is the best part of the film because it is largely successful in maintaining its air of mystery, but even that appropriately enigmatic atmosphere is marred by some heavy-handed musical cues, and some behavior which is out of character for the amanuensis. There is an awkward WTF nude scene, for example, and the fact that the secretary, while subverting some trivial elements of the author's life, is nonetheless recording his precious book faithfully! In the novel's version (according to the reviewers), it was clear that the secretary was feeding the author misinformation for a purpose, hoping he would incorporate it into his book and thus destroy his own credibility with claims that seemed like surreal madness. That makes excellent sense, and is completely in character for the secretary, but no such indication is given in the film. We see and hear excerpts from the critic's new book, as does he himself when a local politician stops by and assists him by reading from his secretary's computer screen. Everything in the autobiography seems sensible and consistent with his wishes, albeit tedious.

Act 3 delivers the unraveling, but the secrets are underwhelming and banal. The build-up of Act 2 leads us to expect something much more original and delicious in the final stanza, but the actual plot twists would be obvious except for the fact that they tend to be somewhat smaller-than-life, or at least less dramatic than we might have expected. The melodramatic final twist is handled so casually as to seem like an anticlimactic afterthought. Indeed, perhaps it was an afterthought. I think the script must have been rewritten many times because the IMDb page lists a female cast member playing "Jane's successor." Not only did I not see that actress, but the ultimate resolution of the film, the final twist which I called an afterthought, precludes the possibility of a successor, thus indicating that a previous cut of the film must have had a different ending. (I don't know how the book ends.)

Why does the film adaptation fall so flat? I think some problems must have been generated by the fact that the male British secretary from the novel underwent a metamorphosis into a female American for the film, and that the role was played by Daryl Hannah, whose inner-directed acting style and limited emotional range frequently made it seem that she wasn't interacting with the author at all, but just kind of mumbling to herself. She does two nude scenes, one of them probably body-doubled, but neither of the scenes seem necessary or even in character. After the curtains have been pulled back, the full-body nude scene seems to make no sense in retrospect. (I can't explain more without spoiling the plot.) I don't suppose the nude scenes would have been there at all if the character had been a male, as originally written. Those awkward moments seem less like attempts at character or plot development and more like excuses to show an attractive naked woman.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.


The link to the right goes to the paperback novel upon which the film is based. The DVD is not available on North America as I write this.

You can obtain the  British DVD from Amazon UK here, and the book from Amazon UK here.



2 The Guardian (of 5 stars)






4.7 IMDB summary (of 10)







I guess it must have received a minor theatrical release in the UK because there were several print reviews in the London papers. I could find no record of the grosses.





  • Daryl Hannah shows her breasts. The character also does a rear nude scene, but it appears to have been done by a body double







Official site






Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Watchable - barely so, but watchable if you need a diversion.