27 September 2023


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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Matt Ross, Universal Content Productions.

The tagline for Gaslit resonates: “Watergate was wrong. Martha was right.” This isn’t just another story of the 1970s political Watergate scandal being told differently. Instead, it focuses on lesser-known stories from the era, like that of Martha Mitchell.

This modern take centres on unreported stories and unremembered characters of the time, in which Mitchell — played superbly by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich, Pretty Woman) — is a big personality with an even bigger mouth to match.

A celebrity Arkansan socialite, Martha is wife to President Richard Nixon’s loyal Attorney-General, John Mitchell, played by another Oscar winner Sean Penn (Mystic River, Milk), who is unrecognisable in this role under layers of latex. Even though Martha had party affiliation, she was the first person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, causing both the presidency and her personal life to untangle.

Martha, known as “the mouth of the south,” was a regular on talk shows. She would

tip off reporters with gossip about Washington’s elite after listening in on her husband’s telephone conversations. She was garrulous and could not keep a secret, and that was a problem, so her husband ordered security to keep her in a hotel room for 24 hours after the Watergate hotel break-in. The ordeal was so traumatising it led to her eventual breakdown and the end of the couple’s marriage.

The star power television series grips and doesn’t let go, so it’s surprising to note that Roberts and Penn have never worked in a film together.

This political thriller is based on the first season of the podcast Slow Burn by Leon Neyfakh. Creator Robbie Pickering has said Gaslit made too much of a correction of history. Liberalism is obvious as it projects an innovative style in a satirical manner. However, that doesn’t weaken the menacing suggestions of its story that is based on facts.

Roberts, who is also an executive producer, gives an intriguing insight into Martha Mitchell. Julia hopes viewers see beyond the exterior of the big personality.

She was interested in “the idea that we can dig into something that’s a part of American history and show people things that they didn’t know at all, or that they thought they knew but maybe they were wrong.”

  • Gaslit is streaming on Stan

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