CHENNAI: The Watergate scandal was one of the murkiest in American history that brought down President Richard Nixon, and is now the subject of further dramatization with ‘Gaslit’.
Some members of Nixon’s administration broke into Democratic Party headquarters at Washington’s Watergate complex in 1972. After the Washington Post broke the story, it was discovered that Nixon’s Republicans had attempted to sabotage the democratic process in the next elections.
Many of us would have heard of two of the newspaper’s reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who helped uncover the crime. But there were other, little-known players who also played a crucial role in forcing the president to resign, and “Gaslit” explores those characters in an eight-episode series on Starz/Lionsgate Play.
At the center of this is Martha Mitchell (Julia Roberts), wife of Attorney General John Mitchell (Sean Penn), the second most powerful man in the country after the President.
What’s really interesting about “Gaslit” – adapted by Robbie Pickering from a podcast, “Slow Burn”, and directed by Matt Ross – is that wiretapping, the placing of listening devices in dissenters’ offices and harassment of activists are still common today, 50 years later.
Watching the early episodes, it becomes clear that Martha is not content to stay in her husband’s shadow and begins to assert herself by perceiving Nixon’s game. In fact, when John first receives the report of the Watergate break-in, she finds herself a prisoner in a California hotel where she had gone on vacation with her husband.
John was terrified that his wife, used to gossiping with her journalist friends, would leak the outrageous story. But Martha was made for tougher things and spoke out, forcing the president to resign.
Unfortunately, Martha, despite her courage, has been relegated to a footnote in history. But she sparkles in “Gaslit,” transforming incredibly from a superficial socialite going from party to party, spreading the gossip she hears, to an embodiment of the convinced force that the president’s yes-men were ready for. anything to serve him.
And they included White House attorney John Dean (Dan Stevens), chief of staff HR Haldeman (Nat Faxon), aide Jeb Magruder (Hamish Linklater), and political adviser Charles Colson (Patton Oswalt). It’s entirely possible these men would have had a free run had it not been for an alert security guard on his first night shift at Watergate who noticed a tampered lock. It was discovered that five of Nixon’s men had just come in to plant the bugs and photograph sensitive material.
Although the series seems overcrowded and the episodes are somewhat fuzzy, we can’t take away the fact that it offers an insightful picture of all the unsung heroes who helped push the Watergate narrative to the point where Nixon got lost. is found stuck. Martha’s role is gloriously patriotic; and Penn, though unrecognizable in prosthetic layers, is brighter than ever.
Unfortunately, “Gaslit” doesn’t reach the goal post, not doing full justice to the game Martha played.