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The Rachel Papers (1989)

R | | Drama, Romance | 12 May 1989 (USA)
Charles is in control of his life; he is about to finish 6th form college and start at Oxford. He is 19 and wants an 'older' woman before he turns 20. Enter the beautiful Rachel, and ... See full summary »


Damian Harris


Damian Harris, Martin Amis (novel)

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1 win. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dexter Fletcher ... Charles Highway
Ione Skye ... Rachel Noyce
Jonathan Pryce ... Norman
James Spader ... Deforest
Bill Paterson ... Gordon Highway
Michael Gambon ... Doctor Knowd
Lesley Sharp ... Jenny
Jared Harris ... Geoff
Aubrey Morris ... Sir Herbert
Claire Skinner ... Gloria
Nicola Kimber Nicola Kimber ... Vanessa Reynolds
Shirley Anne Field ... Mrs. Seth Smith
Pat Keen Pat Keen ... Mrs. Tauber
Amanda De Cadenet ... Cathy
Gina McKee ... Evonne


Charles is in control of his life; he is about to finish 6th form college and start at Oxford. He is 19 and wants an 'older' woman before he turns 20. Enter the beautiful Rachel, and Charles puts his 'master-of-seduction' routines into top gear. Things however get complicated, Charles has a string of ex's and a weird brother-in-law. Rachel has a boyfriend named Deforest and Charles' father has a mistress. Written by Matthew Stanfield <mattst@cogs.susx.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


She's curious, he's nervous.


Drama | Romance


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

12 May 1989 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Er? Will! Sie Nicht? See more »

Filming Locations:

London, England, UK


Box Office

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Agfacolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Although not credited, Eric Stoltz plays one of the guests at the table when Deforest, Rachel, and Charles go to the café. See more »


Charles Highway: If there's one thing that mothers don't want to see in you it's whatever it is that their daughters do.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The 2003 R1 DVD release features an extended version of the "Electric Moon" love scene which is more explicit than the version on the VHS release. See more »


Written by César Suedan (uncredited) and Guadalupe Trigo (uncredited)
Performed by Los Lobos
Courtesy of London Records
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Not absolutely horrible, but certainly not absolutely brilliant. Disappointing film
12 November 2005 | by PrincessBoySee all my reviews

A-ha, a guide to the do's and don'ts of dating on the big screen.

I've always liked Martin Amis' works, and 1974's The Rachel Papers was his first novel, and still one of his best. Despite the fact that this 1989 film adaptation has now become something of a cult classic in the UK, however, I doubt Amis would have approved of it had it been laid before him prior to it's release.

There's a host of famous faces in this film, including Dexter Fletcher, Bill Patterson (albeit briefly), James Spader, Michael Gambon (in cameo) and Jonathan Pryce. Why they chose ex-Gamesmaster host from the post-Dominik Diamond days Dexter Fletcher (also known for his roles in Press Gang, Bugsy Malone and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) as the cocky, arrogant, obnoxious, precocious, phenomenally intelligent and highly sexed-up Charles Highway I'll never know, as he is simply too self-conscious for the part. Ione Skye, equally, made a none-too-good job out of what was, in fairness, the very difficult task of playing the seductive Rachel Noyce. That said, few male viewers would object to the chance of seeing the attractive Skye naked in any film, while Fletcher's charm, wit, and posturing do show sporadically, but not often enough. Dexter Fletcher (or Dexter Dipsh*t as 'Godspeed You Black Emperor' rather unkindly calls him) has had a lot of bad press over the years, but he is actually a far better actor than many people give him credit for, but he simply wasn't suited for the lovable rogue he aspired to be in 'The Rachel Papers' - Matthew Broderick or Gordon John-Sinclair would have been a better choice for the part.

The acting is not totally without merit; Jonathan Pryce is absolutely hilarious in his portrayal of Charles' lunatic brother-in-law Norman and revels in the role, while (the then-unknown) Jared Harris is excellent as Charles' best mate - and mentor/big brother figure - Geoff, but the rest of the cast simply look uninspired. Bill Patterson, Michael Gambon and James Spader are, unquestionably, all very talented actors (although Patterson and - in particular - Spader were both very poor in this film) - why weren't they utilised more?

The film does boast some very typically 80s music and visuals (a la "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "WarGames", "Back To The Future", "The Breakfast Club", "Gregory's Girl" etc.), which are a godsend for anyone who likes their retro 80s backdrops. Despite what 'Godspeed You Black Emperor' says, the fact that a film displays seemingly incessant 80s music and backdrops is not necessarily a bad thing in itself; after all, the film came out in 1989 and was aimed aimed at a contemporary teen audience, so just what was he expecting - that it would be set in the 1800s or something?!

The opening titles give more than a nod towards those featured in the first "Back To The Future" film, but there is some cool incidental music, plus the soundtrack boasts Willy DeVille's lovely tear-jerker "Assassin Of Love", the seductive "Electric Moon" and the sassy "You Made Me", both by Shakespeare's Sister, and Jools Holland's catchy "We're Through", which plays as the closing credits roll.

All in all, however, this film fails to recapture the spirit of Martin Amis' original novel. In summary - quite good in parts, and a noble effort to bring Martin Amis' finest work to the big screen, but falls too much into mediocrity overall.

It's nowhere near as catastrophic as 'Godspeed You Black Emperor's very harsh review makes it out to be (bearing in mind that he described it as an "embarassing train-wreck of a movie" despite then going on to admit to not having watched the whole film, which to my mind makes his comments count for very little), but there's no way it will ever be held in the same high regard as any of the other classic 80s films I've name-checked in this review.

As an aside - Notably, Dexter Fletcher took an enormous amount of criticism for trying to copy Matthew Broderick's style of monologuing to the camera in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". However, in his defence, the original novel was told from the point of view of a narrator describing physical as well as emotional experiences in a format not unlike a diary, therefore it is difficult to think of any other way that he could possibly have played Charles Highway. In this respect, the Bueller-isms could have been (and quite possibly were) accidental and unintentional. Aside from the monologuing and the fact that both films have a scene set in a gallery, "The Rachel Papers" is otherwise not even remotely similar to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", although Fletcher's skill on a computer does evoke memories of a another Matthew Broderick film ("WarGames").

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