The Agent

The Agent


Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

Martin Wagner’s play and screenplay for The Agent were born from years of frustration at dealing with unhelpful, unco-operative, and plain disinterested literary agents. His own bewilderment and anger at a capricious and materialistic business are channeled through sadsack writer Stephen (Stephen Kennedy), who finally decides to confront his slippery agent Alexander (William Beck), over his failure to represent him properly.

Stephen has just finished his second novel, but his calls about the manuscript are ignored, and eventually he decides to confront Alexander in person. During their drawn-out encounter, Stephen gradually realises that his worst fears were well grounded. Alexander doesn’t like him, doesn’t like his book and doesn’t really want to have anything to do with him. His best offer is to pass on contacts for proofreading work.

As the two men spar, Stephen sees his hopes of becoming a bestselling author receding, and takes extreme measures to get his point across. Having established that words will get him nowhere with Alexander, he resorts to sticks and stones. It’s a neat turnaround to the story that you don’t see coming from Stephen’s wet-blanket demeanour. Director Lesley Manning creates some successful scenes where the tension creeps up, as Stephen becomes more desperate to take control of the situation and Alexander shows his true colours - those of a salesman, not a devoted custodian of the arts.

You can forgive both Wagner and his character Stephen for having high hopes about the publishing industry. Books still carry an aura of romance, and writers still dream of being ‘discovered’ and receiving astronomical advances. Meanwhile, the role of both publishers and agents in deciding whose work sees the light of day is cloaked in secrecy. The Agent’s argument is that the process is far more prosaic than we imagine, down to personal sympathies and cynical marketing. It tears into the mystery of the agent and the supposed kudos of having one.

The dialogue does a good job of dissecting the publishing industry, exposing its reluctance to take risks and its laziness in uncovering writers’ potential. In spite of this, The Agent sits in an uncomfortable hinterland between stage play and cinema. Though efforts have been made to vary locations, it still consists of an extended dialogue which sometimes feels a bit contrived. The humour doesn’t have enough bite, and the delivery retains some uncomfortable theatricality that doesn’t come across well on film.

Kennedy and Beck are both convincingly detestable, but perhaps their success at portraying the characters is also the film’s downfall, leaving the viewer little with which to sympathise. A cameo by Maureen Lipman as a glossy queen bee of publishing is intriguing but too brief, and we are left wanting to see more wheeling and dealing between her and Alexander.

As a critique of modern publishing, The Agent is thoughtful and thorough. As a cinematic experience it’s somewhat short of the mark.

Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2009
Share this with others on...
The Agent packshot
A disillusioned writer confronts his slippery agent.
Amazon link

Director: Lesley Manning

Writer: Martin Wagner

Starring: William Beck, Stephen Kennedy, Marueen Lipman

Year: 2008

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: UK


Bradford 2009

Search database: