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The Imposter

1994, San Antonio, Texas, a 13-year old Nicholas Barclay disappears without a trace. His family is left distraught, broken and scared. Who has taken their beloved son, is he still alive? Then, just over three years later, miraculous news is delivered; their boy has been found – in Spain. But instead of the end of it, this is merely the beginning of a story so unbelievable that it can only be true.

Nicola Lampard reviews the hottest documentary of 2012: The Imposter.

Miracles don’t often happen, and as someone points out in the film “if a child has been missing for three years, the child is either dead or doesn’t want to be found”. But, though the odds were stacked against them, the Barclay family found their boy back. Ecstatic at the thought of seeing her brother, his sister flies out toSpainto bring him home.

What should have been a beautiful time in their lives – the reunion and his first months at home – turns sour quite quickly as questions about the boy begin to arise from the family’s immediate surroundings. How come, for example, that Nicholas, the blue-eyed blonde hair boy, returned with a darker complexion and brown eyes? And why can he not speak English without an accent after a mere three years abroad? What is particularly incomprehensible is that his family seem totally unconcerned by these drastic changes in Nicholas – surely they must see it as well?

The story quickly becomes darker and much more chilling than can ever be imagined, and as it unravels further, the family’s dream ends in a nightmare

The Imposter allows the audience to investigate what seems, at first, to be a case of identity theft, and untangling the web of deception, we hear different sides of the story. Some fascinating, such as the account of Charlie Parker, a Texas private investigator who becomes obsessed with the case and needs to find out what happened to Nicholas even if it’s the last thing he does, and some pure electrifying, such as the account from Frédéric Bourdin – the young man who stole Nicholas’ identity.

The combination of confessional interviews from family members, the different authorities involved, and Frédéric Bourdin himself add to the tension, letting the audience hear for themselves exactly how each party felt. In combination with real family footage, the effective mix of classic documentary interview style storytelling and cinematic re-enactments create a captivating tale in which you are left guessing what actually happened. The fictional style sequences add an extra dimension not often apparent in today’s documentaries.

Dark and yet at times remarkably humorous, The Imposter takes a gripping approach to an already chilling story. Shocking, fascinating, and entertaining, this is investigative documentary making of the very highest calibre.


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Nicola graduated from Brunel University with a BSc in Sociology and Media and is now currently studying for a MSc at LSE in Society and Culture, while working in the UK film industry. The Up Series (beginning with 7up) sparked her interest in documentaries, particularly those with a social and cultural themes. She is enthusiastic about documentaries because of their capacity to inform and incite change, as seen from The Thin Blue Line and, more recently, Josh Fox’s Gasland.

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