Steven Spielberg’s The Post is named as an Oscar favourite for 2018 and it is hard not to see why. A film directed by Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in the main roles must necessarily attract attention.
The events depicted in the film take place in The Washington Post newspaper during Nixon’s administration. Tom Hanks plays the Ben Bradlee, the executive editor and Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. They both face an agonizing dilemma – whether to publish material about the Vietnam war that would see them potentially challenged by the Attorney General.
The filming is beautiful: the sequences involving the mechanical process of typesetting are a particular favourite of mine. Meryl Streep looks divine and half the time I was just tempted to figure out who the designer for each particular outfit was – it turns out it was the film’s costume designer, Ann Roth, ( here’s an interview with her for the Hollywood Reporter) Could she please design all my clothes?
But quite apart from the lush 1970s aesthetics, the film is not simply an ode to journalism. There is a sense of complexity to Ben Bradlee’s character – he’s not just writing for the good of the American people, he’s writing for the reputation of his newspaper. When The New York Times is told not to publish the controversial material, Bradlee’s sees it (correctly) as The Post’s chance to shine. He even sends an intern to spy on The Times when he suspects they are working on a story he’s unaware of. He’s a journalist through and through.
I felt very much that the heroine here was Kay Graham. She is the first woman ever to own The Washington Post: her father bought it and then decided Kay’s husband should inherit it. But Kay’s husband committed suicide, leaving her at the helm. She is the only woman in the boardroom. The decision to publish material on the Vietnam war might cost her the company and she knows it – and knows that it would only prove the point her enemies who expect her to fail at every step.
Spielberg has said numerous times that this is a film which was made with particular urgency due to the behavior of the Trump administration. I’m sure that aspect of the film is particularly valuable to its American audience. Quite apart from anything else, however, it’s an interesting story about the importance of free speech. Definitely worth watching.
P.S. After watching Meryl Streep’s spellbinding performance and while doing the research for this review, I discovered that Kay Graham (or Katharine Graham as she is officially known) has written a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. An inspiring woman publisher heading her family company to dethrone the President while wearing incredibly stylish clothing? It is now OBVIOUSLY added to my to-read list.
But why aren’t its publishers marketing this book properly? I swear I’ve looked through several lists of books adapted to screen in 2018 and have never seen this one. Nor has the book made an appearance in any of the other film reviews I’ve read.
On a side note, I was puzzled by the extensive use of Helvetica in the posters for the film – it is definitely not a font that is used by The Washington Post itself. If you also have an interest in the font used in the film’s advertising versus the font in the film’s newspaper, I can only recommend this article.