Frost/Nixon

By Welsh, James M. | Film & History, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Frost/Nixon


Welsh, James M., Film & History


Frost/Nixon (2008).

Directed by Ron Howard.

Distributed by Universal Pictures /Imagine Entertainment/ Working Title Films. 122 minutes

Many historians were agog to see how Ron Howard had brought history to life in his filmed adaptation of Peter Morgan's play, Frost /Nixon. It was, after all, a well-made film, based upon a well-made play that had proved itself stage worthy in London, in New York, and on the road. But obviously, it should have been all wrong for a movie, where, as critic David Gritten writes, "all the cracking tension of rhetoric dissipates" in favor of the moving image. One might argue that if Frost /Nixon could not be seen on stage, as originally intended, it should be seen on television. It was a work that had been shoved into the wrong medium.

But even if it was arguably not a good film, could it be still considered good history? British screenwriter Anthony Frewin didn't think so. When the play opened at the Donmar Warehouse in London, he wondered why "anyone would want to stage, to re-create, what was, essentially, a nonevent?" In an essay entitled "Frost/Nixon. Or, A Load of Old Dick," written for Lobster Magazine in Britain, Frewin ridiculed the idea, "promoted by the film, that this was some sort of clash of the Titans, where there could be only one winner" This, he considered "nonsense." Instead, we see two clowns "on the make, show -biz style." The script has Nixon admitting to his involvement in a cover-up, but Frewin quotes Nixon's actual words: "You're wanting me to say that I participated in an illegal cover-up? No!"

So what is the danger of this level of flim-flammery? That the young, innocent , and ignorant might actually buy the hype, believe the premise, and consider this example of bought journalism a truly important political event? Did anyone at the time take these interviews as seriously as the play and film suggest? Apparently, London Observer film critic Philip French fell for Morgan's bait and wrote that in 1977 Nixon "was finally sunk" by David Frost. Anthony Frewin opines that perhaps Nixon's "resigning as the President in 1974, three years earlier, was merely some administrative detail of little or no consequence?" Why should Anthony Frewin' s opinion matter here? Because for 25 years Frewin worked as Stanley Kubrick's assistant, and Kubrick was, famously, a stickler for historical detail, accuracy, and integrity.

Concerning the historical value of Frost /Nixon, Frewin considered it "a movie you can afford to miss. [Emphasis added.] It's for the rubes who don't know their history and think they're getting some inside track." This is all the more troubling, given the significant influence of movies and television on popular understandings of history. …

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