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?

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.”

"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.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Bohemian rhapsody: Jeanette Winterson’s “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale

 Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time is full of metaphorical riches.

Shakespeare – that magpie plunderer of other people’s plots and characters – would undoubtedly have approved. The Hogarth Shakespeare project invites prominent contemporary writers to rework his plays in novelistic form and this is Jeanette Winterson’s reimagining of The Winter’s Tale. Like the original, it shuttles disturbingly between worlds, cultures and emotional registers. It has never been an easy play, for all its apparent focus on reconciliation, and Winterson handles the gear-changes with skill, moving between the offices of Sicilia, a London-based asset-stripping company, and New Bohemia, a New Orleans-like American urban landscape (with interludes in both a virtual and a real Paris).

Her Leontes is a hedge-fund speculator, Polixenes a visionary designer of screen games (the presence of this world echoes the unsettling semi-magic of Shakespeare’s plot). They have a brief and uncomfortable history as teenage lovers at school and Polixenes – Xeno – has also slept with MiMi (Hermione), the French-American singer who eventually marries Leo.

The story unfolds very much as in the play (though Winterson cannot quite reproduce the effect of Shakespeare’s best-known deadpan stage direction), with Leo using advanced surveillance technology to spy on Xeno and MiMi, and Perdita being spirited away across the Atlantic to the US, where her guardian, Tony, is mugged and killed and she is left in the “baby hatch” of a local hospital – to be found by Shep and his son and brought up in their affectionate, chaotic African-American household. Perdita falls in love with Zel, the estranged son of Xeno, discovers her parentage, returns to London and meets Leo; Leo’s PA, Pauline, has kept in contact across the years with MiMi, a recluse in Paris, and persuades her to return secretly to give a surprise performance at the Roundhouse, when Leo is in the audience, and – well, as in the play, the ending is both definitive and enormously unsettling. “So we leave them now, in the theatre, with the music. I was sitting at the back, waiting to see what would happen.”

That last touch, bringing the author into the narrative in the same apparently arbitrary way we find in a text such as Dostoevsky’s Demons – as a “real” but imperfect witness – gently underlines the personal importance of the play to this particular author. Winterson is explicit about the resonance of this drama for an adopted child and one of the finest passages in the book is a two-page meditation on losing and finding: a process she speculates began with the primordial moment of the moon’s separation from the earth, a lost partner, “pale, lonely, watchful, present, unsocial, inspired. Earth’s autistic twin.”

It is the deep foundation of all the stories of lost paradises and voyages away from home. As the moon controls the tides, balances the earth’s motion by its gravitational pull, so the sense of what is lost pervades every serious, every heart-involving moment of our lives. It is a beautifully worked conceit, a fertile metaphor. The story of a child lost and found is a way of sounding the depths of human imagination, as if all our longing and emotional pain were a consequence of some buried sense of being separated from a home that we can’t ever ­remember. If tragedy is the attempt to tell the story of loss without collapse, all story­telling has some dimension of the tragic, reaching for what is for ever separated by the “gap of time”.

Winterson’s text is full of metaphorical riches. She writes with acute visual sensibility (from the first pages, with their description of a hailstorm in a city street) and this is one of the book’s best things. There are also plenty of incidental felicities: Xeno is designing a game in which time can be arrested, put on hold, accelerated, and so on, and the narrative exhibits something of this shuttling and mixing – most effectively in the 130-page pause between the moment when Milo (Shakespeare’s Mamilius, Leo’s and MiMi’s son) slips away from his father at an airport and the fatal accident that follows. In the play, Mamilius’s death is a disturbing silence behind the rest of the drama, never alluded to, never healed or reconciled; here, Milo’s absence in this long “gap of time” sustains a pedal of unease that has rather the same effect and the revelation of his death, picking up the narrative exactly where it had broken off, is both unsurprising and shocking.

Recurrent motifs are handled with subtlety, especially the theme of “falling”; a song of MiMi’s alludes to Gérard de Nerval’s image of an angel falling into the gap between houses in Paris, not being able to fly away without destroying the street and withering into death. The convergence and crucial difference between falling and failing, falling in love and the “fall” of the human race – all these are woven together hauntingly, reflecting, perhaps, Shakespeare’s exploration in the play of Leontes’s terror of the physical, of the final fall into time and flesh that unreserved love represents.

A book of considerable beauty, then, if not without its problems. MiMi somehow lacks the full angry dignity of Hermione and Leo is a bit too much of a caricature of the heartless, hyper-masculine City trader. His psychoanalyst is a cartoon figure and Pauline’s Yiddish folksiness – although flagged in the text as consciously exaggerated – is a bit overdone.

How a contemporary version can fully handle the pitch of the uncanny in Shakespeare’s final scene, with the “reanimation” of Hermione, is anyone’s guess (the Bible is not wrong to associate the earliest story of the resurrection with terror as much as joy). Winterson does a valiant job and passes seamlessly into a moving and intensely suggestive ending but I was not quite convinced on first reading that her reanimation had done justice to the original.

However, weigh against this the real success of the New Bohemia scenes as a thoroughly convincing modern “pastoral” and the equally successful use of Xeno’s creation of virtual worlds in his games as a way of underlining Shakespeare’s strong hints in the play that art, with its aura of transgression, excess, forbidden magic, and so on, may be our only route to nature. Dream, surprise and new creation are what tell us what is actually there, if only we could see. Winterson’s fiction is a fine invitation into this deeply Shakespearean vision of imagination as the best kind of truth-telling.

Rowan Williams is a New Statesman contributing writer. His most recent book is “The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language” (Bloomsbury). The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is published by Vintage (320pp, £16.99)

Rowan Williams is an Anglican prelate, theologian and poet, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He writes on books for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide