Growing up in British cities, where the geography of a night out at the cinema is most likely to take you to an out-of-town Retail and Leisure Development and post-film drinks to a nearby franchised theme bar housed in a car park, seeing Frost/Nixon at Terez körút’s Muvesz Mozi felt like a most metropolitan night out.
The film is one of a recent crop that approaches its historical moment through broadcasting history, opening out a televisual event to give us a second look at the twentieth century. In a time where we’re more conscious than ever of media machinations and subterfuge, it’s both refreshing and heartening to watch these paeans to the power of television. Frost/Nixon is a love letter to the vigour and thrust of TV’s liberal, righteous origins. Though its plot eeks out the suspense of Frost’s team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, what’s most significant isn’t Frost’s unexpected political nous or grilling technique, nor Nixon’s slippery evasions, but television itself. As screenwriter Peter Morgan admits in his Front Row interview on Radio Four, the real triumph is in the editing process, zooming and cropping Nixon’s derelict close-up.
In the end, however, the film is hoist by its own petard. After the first day of filming, where Frank Langella’s fantastically prunish and perspirant Nixon has derailed the interview with 23-minute homilies, Frost’s team warn him against the perils of humanising the former president. Via the screenwriters extra-factual additions (like Nixon’s drunk, self-pitying telephone call to Frost’s hotel suite), the film does just that.
Less vigourously and angrily political than Goodnight and Good Luck by far, then, but still an evocative period piece.