Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, The Post, excels on a number of levels.
It tells the fascinating true story of the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” in the New York Times and Washington Post.
It also spotlights the role of women in the 1970s and the challenges they faced – no matter their income or status.
Then there’s the joy of watching two legends of the screen, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, in action together for the first time.
For the younger generation interested in journalism there’s also the chance to see how newspapers used to be produced!
In March of 1971, a New York Times reporter obtained extraordinary access to a top-secret, 7,000-page report rife with damning government secrets. The document, which eventually became known as the “Pentagon Papers”, revealed that four presidential administrations – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, had repeatedly misled the public about U.S. operations in Vietnam. Even as the government was said to be pursuing peace, behind the scenes the military and CIA were covertly expanding the war.
While the New York Times initially had the report, much to the chagrin of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), through the work of assistant managing editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), The Post also obtained a copy from the man who leaked it – Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).
When the Nixon administration successfully obtained an injunction to stop The Times publishing further extracts from the report, The Post had the material which would allow them to publish it. However there were huge legal and political risks including the possibility Bradlee and Post publisher Katharine (Kay) Graham (Streep) could be charged with contempt of court or even treason.
While Bradlee was all for publishing it was a huge decision for Graham who took over her father’s company after the suicide of her husband (who her father had anointed to succeed him).
The company was about to float on the stock exchange to raise much needed funds.
Graham was also fighting to assert herself. Although in charge of the company, the attitude of several of the men around her was very condescending. While growing in confidence she still had many self- doubts which Streep brilliantly portrays.
Needless to say after much soul searching and ignoring the advice of her closest advisors, Graham gave Bradlee the go-ahead to publish and the rest, as they say, is history!
Throughout The Post, Spielberg subtly shows the attitudes towards women including Graham. On entering the stock market to launch The Post’s float Graham passes a number of women waiting outside the boardroom. Inside it’s all men. Then at a friend’s dinner party Graham leaves the table with the wives when the men start talking politics!
Bradlee, on the other hand, comes across as an extremely confident newspaper man assured of his own beliefs and actions. Hanks portrayal of Bradlee is also top notch.
There are a couple of the scenes in The Post which are a little heavy handed – including the reading of the Supreme Court judgement on the rights of the Post and Times to publish the documents.
However, mostly The Post offers a fascinating and entertaining insight into the events, people and decisions that impacted America in the 1970s and still do today.
The Post is in cinemas from 11 January.
*Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise.
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