Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Power and the Post; as Trump Hands out His 'Fake News' Awards, Hollywood Is Leading the Fightback with a Film Thatcelebrates Press Freedom. Philip Delves Broughton Hails a Cautionary Tale of Print versus Politics

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Power and the Post; as Trump Hands out His 'Fake News' Awards, Hollywood Is Leading the Fightback with a Film Thatcelebrates Press Freedom. Philip Delves Broughton Hails a Cautionary Tale of Print versus Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Philip Delves Broughton

THE making of Hollywood films tends to be a slow torture of fundraising, casting, writing and filming -- unless you are Steven Spielberg. Only he could have read the script for The Post in early 2017, spotted its relevance in the first year of the Trump presidency, rallied Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to star and had his film on screens in time for the 2018 Oscars.

It is a story of media and power, of a president attacking journalists as treasonous enemies of the state. It is a smoky, profane vision of newspapers, when cigarettes smouldered beside clattering typewriters, stories were sent down via vacuum tube to be set in hot type, and politicians quaked as the bales of first editions thumped menacingly onto Washington DC's early-morning streets.

Replace typewriters with tweets and Richard Nixon with Trump and you get the idea. It is a period piece resonating like a power chord in today's fight between the President and his critics in what he calls the "fake news" press.

Once again, Washington is beset by rumours, subpoenas and charges of abuse of power, and now it has a Spielberg-crafted tale to stiffen its moral spine.

The Post's emotional focus is Katharine Graham, then the owner of The Washington Post, played by Streep. She is 54 in 1971. Her father had bought the paper but her husband, Philip Graham, had been its publisher. She inherited control when Philip, who suffered from depression, shot and killed himself.

In her memoir, Personal History, Graham describes how ill-equipped she was for the role. Over the course of her marriage she had become used to her husband being the star. "Always, it was he who decided and I who responded. From the earliest days of our relationship, for instance, I thought we had friends because of him and were invited because of him. It wasn't until years later that I looked at the downside of all this and realised that, perversely, I had seemed to enjoy the role of doormat wife." After she had four children her husband nicknamed her Porky and gave her a pig's head as a gift.

Philip Graham revelled in his friendships with Presidents Lyndon Johnson and John F Kennedy. But it would be his wife who would have a much greater role in presidential history. It was her memoir that inspired Liz Hannah, 31, to draft a screenplay on spec in 2016.

To focus on all the tensions in Graham's life Hannah chooses the moment in 1971 when Graham had to decide whether or not to publish extracts from the Pentagon Papers, a trove of government documents related to the war in Vietnam.

Not only was Graham fighting off threats from the White House, she was also trying to raise money for her business through a stock market flotation. Her financial advisers were loath to risk that with a controversy. The Post is about Graham taking on a corrupt president and standing her ground in a world of foul-mouthed, greedy and patronising men. It catches this Trump-Weinstein moment perfectly.

Hannah's screenplay was snapped up by Amy Pascal, the former head of Sony Studios, and reached Spielberg in early 2017. He had some time as he waited for the special effects on his new virtual reality film, Ready Player One, and with Trump now in the White house decided not to waste it. He hired Josh Singer, who wrote Spotlight, the Oscarwinning film about the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the sex scandals involving Catholic priests in Boston, to polish the script. And by spring, the cast and crew were on set.

The film starts with Matthew Rhys playing Daniel Ellsberg, a young military analyst employed by the Rand Corporation and embedded with US troops in Vietnam. Ellsberg was appalled by the gap between what he saw on the ground and the confidence radiated by the US government, notably Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense. …

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