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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Inside Syria's unending siege, civilians, not soldiers, are the victims

In Aleppo, civilian strife is just another tool of war.

Maria is a young mother who lives in Aleppo. She missed her opportunity to flee when the Syrian-Turkish border was closed to all but the seriously injured in early 2015. With her two children – Fadi, aged five, and Sama, aged nine – she stayed in the city.

Maria’s husband was killed by a barrel bomb that fell on their neighbourhood in 2014. After that, she took the children and moved in with her husband’s family. Her married brother-in-law asked her to be his second wife. She accepted the offer for the sake of security. This year he, too, was killed when a bomb fell on his shop.

Speaking to her on Skype, I referred to Aleppo as a city under siege and she quickly corrected me. “The city is not under siege,” she said. “We are human beings under siege.” Maria clearly felt offended by my words. She moved the conversation on to the images of a young Syrian boy, sitting in an ambulance, which have appeared on newspaper front pages around the world – a symbol of the human suffering in Aleppo. “What can I say? His silence and shock reflected all the pain of Syrians.”

Tearfully, she described her living conditions. “There are two widows, with three children, who live all together with our old mother-in-law. The good people around us try to give us food and clothing.”

She added: “Before, I used to cook a big meal for me and my family-in-law every day. My late husband was well off.” The children don’t go to school but they get some lessons at home – Maria used to work as an Arabic language teacher at a high school in the city.

The household’s other widow, Safaa, joined our conversation. “Since the first day of Eid ul-Fitr [the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, this year on 6 July], the siege began in Aleppo. There was no food or water. Children cried and could not sleep because of hunger.”

Safaa made food from pulses that she had managed to save, particularly lentils. As the area around the city is rich in olives and well known for producing za’atar herbs, the extended family depended on reserves of these for nutrition. “Al-za’atar al-akhdar [a dish of the herb, olive oil and a few other basic ingredients] has saved the reputation of Aleppo and its people,” Safaa joked, and both women laughed.

Then, suddenly, the Skype connection was lost and they both disappeared.

Another Aleppo native to whom I spoke, Ayham, described his desperation as he finished his engineering degree before fleeing Syria. “I am my mother’s only son, so I didn’t want to do military service, and I left, as I felt so insecure,” he told me. He had been living in Shahbaa, a neighbourhood controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while completing one application after another to study abroad. Eventually he was successful and he has now made it to a university in Europe.

Ayham’s parents were pushing him to leave because they knew that he was part of an underground anti-Assad protest movement. “There are two Aleppos,” he explained. “One is free and the other is controlled by Assad’s regime. Both are very unsafe . . . Living hungry was easier than living under threat.”

There are roughly two million people in the city, most of them women and children. Since the second day of the siege, there have been no fruit or vegetables available and only a few bakeries are producing bread. Compounding the starvation, the bombing has been intense, hitting hospitals, ambulances, blood banks and the Syrian Civil Defence base. Assad’s regime is targeting vital resources for civilians.
Even after rebel forces, in co-operation with the Islamist faction Jaish al-Fateh, managed partly to break the siege and open a new road into the south of the city through the Ramoussa area, they could not bring in enough food. The little that made it inside immediately sent prices soaring. Civilians could not use this road to escape – jets were targeting the routes in and out.

The eastern areas of Aleppo, which are still under the opposition’s control, are also still without aid, because of how risky it is to get there. All the talk coming out of the city today is about decisive battles between Assad’s forces and the rebels in the southern quarters. Civilians put the recent air strikes down to these conflicts – it has long been believed that when the regime loses ground, it intensifies its bombing as revenge, and to send a message to those who continue to resist.

People in Aleppo and the north-eastern territories of Syria are suffering and dying. They have no other choice. It seems that both Isis and the Assad regime are trying as hard as they can to destroy Syrian civilians, whether through direct attacks or by gradual starvation.

There is little information available, as both sides attempt to prevent the media from documenting life under siege. Isis accuses journalists of being agents of Assad, while the regime portrays reporters as terrorists. Pro-Assad social media accounts have alleged that Mahmoud Raslan, who took the footage of the boy in the ambulance, has links with terrorism. The same channels have yet to say much about Raslan’s subject – Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old whom he showed, bloodied and stunned, after the boy was pulled from the rubble caused by multiple air strikes. Omran’s ten-year-old brother, Ali, has since died from injuries sustained in another attack.

After four hours, I heard back from Maria. She apologised for losing the connection and asked me not to worry about her. “All of us are fine. We did not die yet,” she said. Her daughter, Sama, has not been to school since last year, she told me, and now studies only Arabic poetry. They have no books, so she depends on the verses that Maria knows by heart. Sama misses her school and her friends, and though she remembers their faces she has forgotten their names.

Maria has made a doll for her out of scraps of fabric and they call it Salwa. Together, they sing Syrian folk songs for the doll, in particular one that goes: “Hey Salwa, why are you crying? I need a friend.” Maria is resigned. As she says, “We are back in the Stone Age.” 

K S is a Syrian journalist, based in Sweden since 2014

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser