With almost daily coverage in the press of medical malpractice cases, PAPER MASK takes on an immediacy that adds to its often excruciating suspense.
Matthew Harris (Paul McGann) is a lowly, disgruntled attendant in a dreary London hospital. When one of the staff, a physician, is killed in an automobile accident, Harris, noting the similarity in their ages, is intrigued by the possibility of assuming the dead man's identity. After all, he has
worked in and around hospitals all of his adult life. What's more, the dead man is an applicant for a new post at a Bristol hospital and even has a firm date for his initial interview. Matthew determines to do the interview in his stead and, because he is personable and presentable, gets the post
in favor of several other applicants.
Matthew becomes Dr. Simon Hennessey, charged with working in that hospital's emergency room. He manages quite miraculously not to kill anyone and, in fact, handles several crises. Matthew is helped out by Christine Taylor (Amanda Donohoe), a sweet and capable nurse who, in the process of helping
the appealing young "doctor" get his bearings, falls in love with him. Matthew's lack of knowledge seems no more evident than that of other colleagues at the hospital who are fresh from years of training in medical schools but have no hands-on experience. His humility, too, endears him to the
nursing and technical staff at the hospital.
Inevitably, Matthew makes a fatal mistake while ministering to a patient who dies because of his negligence. At the subsequent coroner's court hearing, Christine comes to his rescue and assumes the blame for the accident. Emboldened by the whitewash and by the fact that the other doctors at the
hospital have closed ranks around him, Matthew applies for a better post at a hospital in Salisbury. But one of the few friends he had during his days as a porter in London suddenly turns up, and Matthew resorts to murder to protect his charade.
An interesting thing happens to audiences as they view PAPER MASK. At first they cheer Matthew on for his audacity, but slowly they begin to question his morality and to harbor fears about their own safety, should they ever have to go to hospital themselves. The film was directed by Christopher
Morahan from a screenplay by John Collee. Morahan, who also produced PAPER MASK, is probably best known for his role as producer-director of Granada TV's "The Jewel In the Crown" serial, for which he received two BAFTA awards and an Emmy. Collee, a popular columnist for The Observer newspaper and
a recognized novelist, is also a qualified physician. When his novel Paper Mask was originally published, it struck a chord with worried readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
As the ambitious and unscrupulous Matthew Harris, Paul McGann (WITHNAIL & I, EMPIRE OF THE SUN) is personable and appealing, able to charm the audience until the second half of the film, when his deceit becomes manifest. As Christine, Amanda Donohoe (THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM and TV's "L.A.
Law") is quite credible, first as a competent casualty nurse and later as Matthew's lover. There is some impressive cinematography by Nat Crosby, who succeeds in creating an air of heightened reality to match the film's increasing sense of foreboding.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: With almost daily coverage in the press of medical malpractice cases, PAPER MASK takes on an immediacy that adds to its often excruciating suspense. Matthew Harris (Paul McGann) is a lowly, disgruntled attendant in a dreary London hospital. When one of t… (more)