Without Martha Mitchell there would have been no Watergate. The “Gaslit” series tells his story

Serial recipe

The excessive talkativeness of a woman can create scandals: in this case, however, Julia Roberts plays the wife of Nixon’s right-hand man who in phone calls to reporters talks about the president’s “dirty business”

Gaia Montanaro

This is not the usual series on the Watergate affair. The center of the story is indeed the scandal that overwhelmed US politics but the perspective from which it is faced has new and interesting features. Gaslitthis is the title of eight-episode miniseries released weekly on Starz Play, follows the historical events not from the journalistic point of view – already inflated audiovisually – but from that of the political undergrowth present in those years in the White House. The fulcrum of the story, which however has a strongly choral narrative matrix, is the character of Martha Mitchell (the always very good Julia Roberts), wife of Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell (Sean Penn) and his loyal right-hand man. Martha is a strong-willed woman, who belongs to Arkans high society and undoubtedly charismatic and oratorical gifts. A staunch Republican electrician, Mitchell is among the first to draw public attention to Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate affair, bringing both the presidency and his personal life to a breaking point.

Parallel and in concert with the Mitchell affair, a series of other characters who work in Nixon’s re-election committee move and who alternatively try to cover up the thing or to bring out details through a work of espionage of the opponents. Among them stands out in particular John Dean (played by Dan Stevens), a young rampant and seeking professional achievement who struggles to find a decisive position within the prosecutor’s office.

The series, very solid from the point of view of writing and wisely orchestrated, is based on the first season of the Slow Burn podcast (conceived by Leon Neyfakh) and is created by Robbie Pickering, produced and shot by Matt Ross and stars Sam Esmail as executive producer (in the same role also for Mr Robot And Homecoming, the latter series also adapted from a podcast, also created by Esmail). The cast stars Julia Roberts and Sean Penn (heavily made up) alongside high-quality supporting actors such as Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion) and Betty Gilpin (Glow).

What are Gaslit’s themes?

Gaslit approaches the Watergate case from a fundamentally political perspective. This is the narrative environment and the cut that is given to the story, the context that is investigated in its nerve centers starting from the subjects who live there up to the families and personal relationships tangential to it. For those who know thoroughly the dynamics of American politics and systems of power it will certainly be an interesting product that investigates in depth a peculiar narrative environment. But Gaslit also manages to conquer an audience – sophisticated – of non-initiates, showing the ability, typical of great American serial writing, to outline characters with a strong three-dimensionality, engaging and deeply human in the doubts and insecurities that animate them. Certainly having great interpreters available makes this feature explode to its maximum but the narrative solidity and the choice – very happy – to return a story from the choral matrix allow the series to be both broad and profound at the same time.

What are the films that dealt with the Watergate affair?

A hot topic for American politics and public opinion, the Watergate case – and more generally the Nixon presidency – have already been the subject of numerous audiovisual products. Gaslit, as previously mentioned, adopts a fundamentally new narrative perspective but there are other films that have faced the Watergate from peculiar angles. Think for example of the famous “All the President’s Men” (1976) with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, “The Intrigues of Power” (1995) with Anthony Hopkins and nominated for four Oscars, “The Post” (2017), directed by Steven Spielberg with Maryl Streep and Tom Hanks and “The silent man” (2017) with Liam Neeson and Diane Lane.

What is Gaslit’s tone in three bars?

“Muzio Scevola would be proud of you”.

“Learn to recognize snakes”.

“Find another wife if you want me to be silent or marry the portrait I made for you.”

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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