Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Knockout

Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Knockout

Article excerpt

Frost/Nixon Donmar Warehouse

There's a moment towards the end of Frost/Nixon when the narrator, Jim Reston, launches an attack on television that is guaranteed to strike a chord with the entire metropolitan class. 'The first and greatest sin of television is that it simplifies, ' he says. 'Great, complex ideas, tranches of time, whole careers, become reduced to a single snapshot.'

I don't know whether Peter Morgan, the author of Frost/Nixon, believes this, but I hope he doesn't because the reason his play is so good is that he has spent almost his entire career writing for television. (He wrote The Deal - the award-winning docudrama about Blair and Brown - as well as the latest version of Colditz. ) He knows how to create characters with a few economical strokes. He knows how to devise a plot. Above all, he knows how to grab an audience's attention and then hold it for the best part of two hours.

On the face of it, Frost/Nixon is a straightforward docudrama about the series of interviews that David Frost conducted with Richard Nixon in 1977 - the most watched current-affairs programme in the history of television, according to Reston. We learn about the protracted negotiations that preceded the meeting between the two men, the months of preparation, the interviews themselves, and the immediate aftermath. This in itself is interesting enough, but Morgan has succeeded in giving this confrontation real dramatic power by, rather ingeniously, utilising the conventions of the boxing picture.

In Morgan's version of events, David Frost is the Sylvester Stallone character in the first Rocky movie, the rank outsider who's given a shot at the title because the powers-that-be think it will make for a good PR stunt. Nixon, by contrast, is Apollo Creed, the arrogant, heavyweight champion who fatally underestimates his opponent. Predictably enough, when Frost and Nixon get in the ring together, the wily ex-President wins round after round until it looks as though the challenger is about to throw in the towel. But, in the final round, Frost digs deep and manages to find an inner core of steely resolve.

Against all odds, he fights back and, eventually, lands a killer punch - a blow from which Tricky Dicky never recovers. At the end of the play, Nixon is out for the count and Frost is the new heavyweight champ. …

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