There is plenty to do inside Gaslitbut one thing is certain… it’s never trivial.
The background is the 1972 Washington Watergate scandal, which led to the downfall of President Nixon. This is a story that was extensively dramatized in All the President’s Men, watergate, Nixon, Frost / Nixon, Dick and others.
Gaslit adds the perspective of Martha Mitchell (Julia Roberts), a vocal Arkansan socialite and wife to Nixon’s loyal attorney general, John Mitchell (Sean Penn).
When Attorney General Mitchell tasks White House Counsel John Dean (Dan Stevens) with setting up a spy unit to spy on the Democratic National Committee, an unstoppable train of calamities begins.
Dean hires macho, swashbuckling lawyer G. Gordon Liddy (Shea Whigham) to take charge of the intelligence operation, bugging the offices of the Watergate Hotel.
“This is where we get to play God,” Liddy declares.
Suffice to say, not everything goes as planned, especially the night that hotel night watchman Frank Wills (Patrick Walker) begins his rounds.
For Dean, who tries to impress new girlfriend Maureen (Betty Gilpin), his rising star in the ranks of Washington is about to collapse. At the tail of the plot are FBI agents (Chris Messina, Carlos Valdes).
But we’re here for the Mitchells. Martha enjoys the high life of Washington partying and interviewing the press, often pouring tea for reporter Winnie McLendon (Allison Tolman), causing headaches for her pipe-smoking attorney general husband. As a result, there are furious fights and even domestic violence.
Martha will be the first to warn of Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, thus justifying her central role in this miniseries. Yet this drama from writer Robbie Pickering and director Matt Ross offers tremendous texture and spotlight to her brilliant ensemble.
Julia Roberts is magnificent in the central role of the polarizing Martha, while Sean Penn is decidedly unrecognizable as her husband thanks to an elaborate make-up (I found it less distracting than Russell Crowe’s turn as Roger Ailes in The loudest mouth in the roomfor example).
The dynamic Dan Stevens has enjoyed such variety in his film roles since he’s gone Downton Abbey, and Shea Whigham is set to be nominated for his wacky portrayal of the crazed G. Gordon Liddy. Even minor players are far from in the hands of this team.
The production team enjoys recreating the fashion, hairstyles, locations and cars of the 1970s, from sunken lounges to fondue parties.
Yet while this is a glittering study of the Watergate scandal, it’s also a masterful, sometimes terrifying essay on how a marriage deals with power, betrayal, truth….
“People don’t like you. That’s why we can’t fly Air Force One,” John Mitchell tells his wife.
Gaslit is one of the best drama offerings so far this year. Do not miss it.
Gaslit is now projecting onto Stan.