Warning: this review contains spoilers – if you don’t know the outcome of the Frost/Nixon interviews, please stop reading now!
The second television-themed movie of the year, Frost/Nixon, follows hot on the heels of audience favourite Slumdog Millionaire to reveal what went on behind the scenes of 1977’s infamous televised interviews with ex-President of the United States, Richard Nixon when he me British interviewer David Frost.
Ron Howard’s adaptation of Peter Morgan’s stage-play begins soon after Nixon’s (Frank Langella) impeachment for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
While filming in Australia, David Frost (Michael Sheen), best known at the time for his appearances in satirical TV series such as The Frost Report and That Was The Week That Was, begins to formulate an offer for Nixon that he can’t refuse.
Frost suggests to Nixon’s press liaison Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones) that he should run a series of interviews with the disgraced politician. Lazar’s conviction that Frost will be a lightweight opponent will come back to haunt him and Nixon as the interviews take place over a number of days.
For a film whose UK audience will be made up of viewers perhaps most used to seeing David Frost on early afternoon ITV1 staple Through the Keyhole or the odd Sunday politics programme, the realisation that he was once famous worldwide as a heavyweight interviewer will be a surprising one.
Sheen’s depiction of Frost as playboy, risk taker and professional journalist is impressive, more so perhaps than Langella’s sombre Nixon. The latter is certainly no carbon copy of the ex-President, either looks-wise or vocally, but his performance is appropriately weighty.
Ron Howard does well to set the story free from the original stage setting, though many scenes take place indoors as Frost and his cohorts plan their strategy. Sam Rockwell stands out here as James Reston Jr while Oliver Platt pops up to play a more jokey role of Bob Zelnick.
Tension is palpable during the preparation for the interviews, though there is a lack of insight into Frost’s thought processes at various points. It’s left to others to explain his actions and this tends to distance the viewer from the character.
When watched in tandem with the real footage of the Frost/Nixon interview (rather helpfully given away for free in last Sunday’s Independent newspaper) the background to Frost’s behaviour on the main day of questioning can be seen to be informative if dry.
While it’s undoubtedly an important moment in Western politics, I was left with the thought that however dramatic the actors and director made this look, the reality was far more interesting and that a feature length documentary would have been a much better way to get the message across.