Sir Paul (Tom Conti) is an art critic and writer who was blinded in a car crash. He lives alone in a large mansion in the UK. He is looking for an amanuensis or "ghost writer" to help him write his final book, an autobiography, and interviews several unsuccessful candidates until Jane Ryder (Daryl Hannah) applies for the position. Because she is intelligent and forthright, Sir Paul hires her, and he explains to her she will now be living in the house and introduces Mrs. Kilbride (Miriam Margolyes), the cook and housekeeper. He then goes on to divulge his claustrophobia and "terrific fear of the dark," despite him being blind, and asks that the lights be switched on at, "exactly the same time as they would be in any normal house."
Jane begins to explore the mansion by herself, noting how a good amount of the furniture is covered in white dust cloths, before stumbling upon a teddy bear with one eye. She picks up the bear and snaps the eye off of its face. A shot of a painting is then inexplicably shown along with the sounds of a child's laughter.
They have breakfast together and discuss their pet annoyances, with Sir Paul getting disproportionately angry about Jane saying "no problem" repeatedly. He asks her to bring to his attention anything he does that she finds irritating, if any. She then states that his saying, "poor," as an adjective, describing it as patronizing. Sir Paul then tells Jane that he can both hear her smile and think. Sir Paul begins dictating his book, which he decides to call, "A Closed Book," to Jane while she types on her computer. Sir Paul again gets very angry at Jane for not taking his instructions. After they finish writing, Sir Paul asks Jane to buy a puzzle of a specific painting as a favor, which she agrees to do. He later asks her to call his agent to deliver the news about his new book being in the works. Jane dials the phone and speaks with someone before telling Sir Paul that his agent is currently out of the country and not available. Things run smoothly until Jane starts changing things ever so slightly, like taking paintings out of their frames and turning them upside down. Her true purpose at the mansion starts to become even more questionable when she begins to lie to Sir Paul, stating that she had been wearing a red gown when she was wearing jeans and a shirt, and sets a few of his books ablaze in the fireplace. Sir Paul begins to question Jane's personal life, specifically her love life, but she is divulges little and asks that the subject be changed. Sir Paul starts to suspect Jane when she sends Mrs. Kilbride home for a week without consulting him.
While singing in the bath, he keeps hearing strange noises, which are really Jane attempting to scare him. While he is in the bath, someone turns the light off, and then Jane comes in naked and claims that the light is still on, to reassure him. She leaves the bathroom and the audience is then shown another shot of the teddy bear followed by a painting of a young girl playing with a teddybear and the sound of children's laughter.
Jane's lying and sneaking becomes more and more obvious as she lies to him about Madonna dying and O. J. Simpson committing suicide. Sir Paul becomes very suspicious when Mrs. Kilbride returns to the house and she finds a puzzle that Sir Paul asked Jane to purchase, and it turns out to be the wrong puzzle. This particularly matters to Sir Paul as he wrote about the painting in his book, and he gets very angry at her and begins to lose trust in her. Jane assures Sir Paul that nothing like this will ever happen again. Later, Mrs. Killbride calls to inform them that her husband may have lung cancer and that she won't be able to work again for some time.
Sir Paul's suspicions are assuaged when a Conservative MP visits his house to persuade him to vote for the Conservatives. Because of her fear of Sir Paul, she responds positively to all of his questions, and she reads aloud what Jane has written in his book after he insists she do it for him. Fortunately for Jane, her transcription of his words on the computer are accurate. Jane later escalates her campaign against him, and one day she leaves a suit of armour lying on the floor, and displaces several desks and a number of books. She knows that Sir Paul will walk into them, which will cause him to trip and fall down the stairs. She then comes back into the house. Sir Paul dials his agent for the first time in the film and finds out that he was in fact at his office the whole time and had never taken a trip.
Eventually, Sir Paul realizes that Jane is attempting to kill him, and he has a confrontation with her, in his bedroom. She tells him that her late husband, Ralph, had once had an art exhibition at a prestigious gallery, where he had been severely criticized by Sir Paul. It is revealed that the quick shots of paintings shown throughout the film are in fact the works of her late husband. Due to the subject material of his paintings, Ralph had been arrested and accused of being a pedophile. He later killed himself. After comparing Sir Paul to "a closed book," and declaring that she must destroy him the way he destroyed Ralph, Jane shoves him into a wardrobe and she leaves the house, with Sir Paul screaming after her. However, when she returns to the house out of guilt, and because she lacks the capacity to kill someone, Jane discovers that Sir Paul has escaped from the closet. He had called Mrs. Killbride with a phone that he had forgotten was in his pocket from a previous scene, telling her that he had locked himself in the wardrobe. Then, Sir Paul points a gun at Jane, and explains that Ralph killed himself because he could not stand the truth about himself, that he knew what Sir Paul had written about him was true. Sir Paul then confesses that he saw this "proxy child abuse" in the paintings because he saw his own secret in the paintings. Sir Paul, too, is a pedophile. He invites Jane to shoot him, but she leaves the house instead. As she drives away, Sir Paul shoots himself inside the mansion.Tom Conti as Sir Paul, an author and art critic who was blinded in an accident.
Daryl Hannah as Jane Ryder, a hired writing assistant to Sir Paul whose intentions become less clear as the story continues.
Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Kilbride, Sir Paul's cook and housekeeper.
Simon MacCorkindale as Andrew Boles, Sir Paul's agent.
Elaine Paige as Canvasser, a conservative representative who visits Sir Paul's house.
Ty Glaser as Jane's successor
The film's script was written by Gilbert Adair, author of the novel that the film was originally based upon.
When asked about the film during an interview author Michael Goddard, who wrote "The Cinema Of Raúl Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies," director Raúl Ruiz said: "I had some problems with that from that maybe you know; it's that the way that films are produced in England is radically different from how films are produced in many other countries. In England, the filmmaker is a technician, this is different to a director, and I had a very funny letter at the beginning of the shooting, 'remember that this not a film of an auteur, (using the French word), we don't want that, we want a normal feature.' So I followed the script, you know the sermons, 'I serve to make the script, only the script and nothing but the script,' but then the script changed every day, it was changed by the actors, by the producer, by money problems, so I was following something that was not very clear, it was wit cloudy, and then I made a version and they started working with this version, I always try to make a film in such a way that you can edit only in one way, or sometimes in two but not more, and because the film had to be made in three weeks and something and so was fast, I have my alibi. I can do only that, I have no time for many cuts. So I have no close-ups, no shot-reverse shots, there were some, of course, but in a different way. So they could not finish that and they started changing the shots; [they changed] one shot from another and suddenly the film became weaker and weaker and lost all the energy. I saw the film, I have the original and I have this one and it's sort of deception, it's the only film where I had this experience."
This film was one of Raúl Ruiz's last films before his death in 2011. It was released straight-to-DVD in the UK, Australia and New Zealand following its 2009 Cannes market premiere. Ruiz’s first name in credits is given his seldom-used, non-Spanish spelling of Raoul, possibly due to the picture's British identity.
Critical reception was overall poor, with a few exceptions. The Times gave it one (out of five) stars and called it an "atrocious, creepy little film". The Daily Telegraph gave it 2 out of 5 stars, stating, "A Closed Book feels less like a thriller than an aesthete’s tease". The Guardian also gave a poor review and only 2 out of 5 stars, describing it as "a silly story about a blind art critic". Perhaps the most scathing is a review from Time Out London which gave the film only 1 star, finding "Raul Ruiz's apologists have their work cut out for them."
Anthony Quinn of The Independent gave it 3 out of 5 stars stating that "its sheer unlikeliness is what also keeps you hanging in there." Leo Robson of Financial Times also gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, saying that "Events gradually turn Gothic, with things going bump in the night, as they often do in films containing blind characters or set in country houses, so here the fun is doubled, and it all culminates in a final twist that has to be seen to be disbelieved." On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the movie received a critical score of 14% out of 14 critics with an average rating of 3.9/10, while the audience score was at 21% with an average rating of 2.7/5.