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All may, none must, some should: Is it right for an actor to apologise for their work?

Daniel Craig apologised for Quantum of Solace in 2011, and this week, Glenn Close has expressed regret publicly for her portrayal of a woman with mental illness in Fatal Attraction. But was it necessary?

Glenn Close.
"It was that guy". Glenn Close (right) has expressed regret for her portrayal of a woman with mental illness in Fatal Attraction. Photograph: Getty Images.

It’s highly unusual for a film star to apologise for their work, and when they do it’s usually a case of too little, too late. I’m thinking here of Daniel Craig reflecting on his second James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, three years after its release: “We were hamstrung by the writers’ strike,” he said in 2011. “We had half a script and lots of pressure. We suffered because of a lack of preparation.” Personally, I don’t think anyone should be apologising for Quantum of Solace. As a lean, short, exciting Bond movie it has admirably little of the bluster of much of the series. But if you think something’s amiss, perhaps it’s better to say so at the outset rather than risk looking like you hoodwinked audiences when you were out on the promotional circuit kissing babies and giving your movie the hard sell.

Nevertheless, it was reassuring this week to read this week that Glenn Close had expressed regret publicly for her portrayal of a woman with mental illness in Fatal Attraction. It may be 26 years since the release of that insidiously nasty thriller, in which Close played a woman who takes revenge on the married lover who spurns her after a one-night stand, but this apology is both welcome and revealing. The movie is fascinating as a time capsule of 1980s attitudes, both socially and within Hollywood. And though it still works as a parable about Aids, as it did at the time, it is just as illuminating to witness its ingrained misogyny, its partial distribution of sympathies.

The picture concerns a slick, successful family man (played by Michael Douglas, who was also in the news this week, discussing frankly his dining habits) who cheats on his wife. But his real misfortune is to do so with a deranged harpy who sinks her teeth into his life and won’t let go—that’s how the film sees it anyway. Though there is a sense that James Dearden’s screenplay regards the hero as misguided in jeopardising the happiness of his pure and virtuous family (beaming wife, cutie-pie daughter complete with fluffy pet bunny), the bulk of the threat comes from without: we leave the movie thinking not that men shouldn’t be unfaithful, but that they should choose their infidelities with greater care. Perhaps some kind of background check should be in order to determine the likelihood of suicide attempts or prolonged and tearful exposure to Madame Butterfly.

Close can have had no sway over the film’s philosophy; her regret stems from the unenlightened approach to her character’s mental state. Now, she said, she “would have a different outlook on that character. I would read that script totally differently… The astounding thing was that in my research for Fatal Attraction I talked to two psychiatrists. Never did a mental disorder come up. Never did the possibility of that come up. That, of course, would be the first thing I would think of now.”

I’m sure Fatal Attraction will eventually do the rounds again in remake form. Most hits do: anyone from the 1980s visiting the early 21st century in a time machine would be surprised to see many of the same movie titles (The Evil Dead, Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn) still occupying cinema marquee displays. (Ah, Red Dawn — now there’s a movie that merits an apology if anything does.) But if Fatal Attraction does rise from the grave and walk the earth again, I hope its new custodians heed Close’s cautionary words. I’m not entirely confident they would. The need for understanding and compassion is usually outweighed, in movies at least, by the importance of having someone to hate. Reflecting on the young killers of James Bulger, John Major put it most succinctly and grotesquely when he said: “Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.”