Rachel Papers, The (1989 with Dexter Fletcher and Ione Skye)

UK / 1989

Director and Writer: Damian Harris from Martin Amis’ novel

Cast: Dexter Fletcher, Ione Skye, Jonathan Pryce, James Spader, Bill Patterson, Lesley Sharpe, Michael Gambon, Aubrey Morris

Damian Harris made an excellent directorial debut with this witty, cynical sex comedy which casts Dexter Fletcher as Charles Highway, 19 and studying to go to Oxford, living in the basement flat of the house owned by his sister Jenny (Lesley Sharp) and Norman (Jonathan Pryce), her black sheep husband.

Charles has turned the art of living life into a science, and has created a “Conquests and Techniques” programme on his home computer into which he has entered the accumulated data of his love life to date in order to construct what he believes is the perfect, infallible seduction technique. His system falls apart, however, when he meets the eponymous Rachel, American Ione Skye, who is living in London with her mother Shirley Ann Field while she contemplates a modelling career in New York.

Charles believes he is in love with her and she drops her yuppie American boyfriend De Forest (James Spader) to spend a passionate weekend with him – and when her mother leaves, she moves in to live with him. But before long she no longer seems to be his dream girl and when she moves back with her mother, he feels no remorse at sleeping with an old flame. However, when Rachel finds out, she announces she’s returning to the States just as he finds he’s been accepted into Oxford. Should he pursue her or his studies?

As both writer and director, Harris succeeded in translating Amis’ novel to the screen in highly effective cinematic terms, utilising the clichés and conventions of a standard teenage comedy to make sly and acid observations which give the proceedings depth. Harris’ decision to relocate the action from the novel’s ’70s setting to the late ’80s also paid off and, noted Harris, “the aim was not to slavishly reproduce the book, but to adapt and update it to the cosmopolitan London of the late ’80s while never losing sight of the original themes”.

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