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Paper Mask is a 1990 British drama film directed by Christopher Morahan and starring Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe and Tom Wilkinson. The screenplay concerns a hospital porter who decides to impersonate a doctor in a busy hospital. The film was based on a novel by John Collee, who also wrote the screenplay.
Matthew Harris is a young, lowly orderly working in a busy hospital in London who dreams of bigger and better job opportunities for himself. One evening, he witnesses a car accident outside a local pub where the driver of a car is killed after colliding head-on with a lorry. Harris learns that the man, named Simon Hennessey, was a doctor at the hospital where he works and had been applying for a residency at another hospital in Bristol. Harris takes the dead man's mail and fills out a job application and applies for the job himself under the late doctor's idenitity. After studying medical books and getting "hands on" involvement with other patients at his hospital, Harris applies for the job and is accepted. He quits his orderly job and settles in Bristol where he, as Dr. Simon Hennessey, is assigned to a busy emergency room.
Despite his lack of experience, Harris completes his first few days without incident. He meets and is soon aided by a friendly ER nurse, named Christine Taylor, who becomes smitten with the friendly "doctor" and who helps him through his busy first days. After saving the life of a woman in the ER, Harris becomes more competent and confident with his new job, but he also becomes more and more arrogant and corrupt by his newly acquired power and skill. Soon, both Christine and Harris begin an affair which complicates things. When a patient under Harris' care dies from his negligence, he is brought up on charges. But at his hearing, Christine takes the blame for the incident which gets her suspended from the hospital.
Things take another turn when one day, Alec Moran, one of the few friends that Harris had during his days while working as an orderly in London, runs into him, and Harris goes to desperate measures to protect his charade. When Harris takes Moran to a remote area and confides in him about his scam of impersonating a doctor, Moran takes it very badly and threatens to report Harris to the medical board. Harris follows Moran and pushes him off a cliff, resorting to murder to keep his job. However, Moran survives the fall critically injured, but long enough to be brought into the hospital for treatment. Harris tries to kill Moran in the ER and succeeds by injecting a blood bag for Moran's emergency surgery with poison.
When Christine finally figures out Harris' charade after seeing the real Dr. Simon Hennessey's gravestone in London while visiting her recently deceased father's grave in the same cemetery, she confronts him. Harris charms Christine into helping him so they can get married and live a good life together. Since neither he or Moran have any family, Harris manipulates Christine by making her claim that Alec Moran is the real Matthew Harris, so he can be legally declared dead and he can continue his impersonation of Dr. Hennessey. Christine does so, and Harris is again free and clear.
Due to growing negative views of him, Harris decides to transfer to another hospital in nearby Salisbury and he leaves without saying goodbye to Christine. As the now-amoral and murderous Harris settles into his new job at another ER at another hospital to continue his impersonation of a professional doctor, the abandoned Christine must decide for herself if she will remain silent forever, or risk prosecution and imprisonment for her involvement in Harris' charade by reporting him to the authorities.
- Paul McGann ... Matthew Harris
- Amanda Donohoe ... Christine Taylor
- Frederick Treves ... Dr. Mumford
- Tom Wilkinson ... Dr. Thorn
- Barbara Leigh-Hunt ... Celia Mumford
- Jimmy Yuill ... Alec Moran
- Mark Lewis Jones ... Dr. Lloyd
- John Warnaby ... Dr. Hammond
- Alexandra Mathie ... Beverley
- Oliver Ford Davies ... Coroner
- Frank Baker ... Happy
- Clive Rowe ... Ants
- Robert Oates ... Head Porter
- Karen Ascoe ... Alison
- Dale Rapley ... Dr. Simon Hennessey
- Simon Adams ... Laurence
- Hetta Charnley ... Medical Student
- Steve Waller ... Pianist