In The Post, the character “Katharine Graham” states, “News is the rough draft of history.” This concept has been the mantra of those who have reported for and published newspapers for over a century and it is the heart of this very timely film.

Writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer have created an efficient screenplay, establishing a compendium of history and information in each scene without becoming dry or pedantic. The actors are so skilled in conveying the full emotional background of their characters that gripping drama plays out between the lines of dialogue.

Legendary director Stephen Spielberg, whose resume goes back to 1959, when he was 13 years old, can afford to be choosy about the projects he takes on. This one carries an urgent message about the importance of keeping those who report the news free from outside influence. It’s a fascinating and very timely account of modern US history, about the attempted shutdown of our free press, as the administration threatens the Washington Post over the release of the Pentagon Papers. Spielberg’s movies contain patience in divulging the details of each character’s background in small increments so that their emotional and mental changes catch the audience by surprise. He is a master storyteller in the medium of film.

Katharine Graham was a revolutionary woman. Her father, Eugene Meyer, had bought the Washington Post in 1933, which was at the time in bankruptcy.  When he was appointed by President Truman to be the first head of the World Bank in 1946, he named Phil Graham, the husband of his daughter Katharine, as publisher. At that time it would have been unheard of for him to install his daughter in the position. However, her husband committed suicide in 1963 and Katharine summoned all her courage and stepped up to take the position herself. She was instrumental in preserving the integrity of the paper. The Post is her story and Meryl Streep is able to convey that Graham’s outward learned hesitation and demure personality, which veiled an intense inner strength. The Washington Post stayed with the family for 80 years until it was sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million in 2013.

Perhaps it sounds redundant to say that Streep recreates Katharine Graham beautifully. She plays the role with great nuance and in the moment without giving away developments to come. That is her expertise. She knows the craft of acting so well I believe it would actually be impossible for her to perform with mediocrity. Tom Hanks is also excellent as the newpaper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee, a change up from his earlier comedies and from his role in Bridge of Spies. Sarah Paulson plays Ben Bradlee’s wife “Tony” in a small yet powerful interpretation.

This story is about courage – the courage to risk everything, reputation, financial standing and social status, to do the right thing on a much larger scale. The film was nominated for six Golden Globe awards and for two Academy Awards, Best Actress and Best Picture. In a sad postscript, William Graham, son of Katharine and Phil, died on December 20, 2017, in an apparent suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, mirroring the death of his father in 1963.

 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com

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