Death of a Newsman

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I went to see The Reporter at The Cottesloe on Wednesday night, Nicholas Wright’s exploration of James Mossman’s final, troubled years, set across a backdrop of an oppressive Britain in a tempestuous late 60s world.

Ben Chaplin, who was breathtakingly good in Neil LaBute’s This Is How It Goes at the Donmar (I saw it on 8/7/2005 and the floor manager kindly thanked us for coming into London at such a difficult time, which made me feel guilty, that perhaps I should be at home thinking about the world, rather than so desperate to escape into fiction) repeated the feat by inhabiting Mossman completely, from the ill-at-ease cad to conspiratorial narrator. At times, Mossman came across as a Batemanesque sociopath, incapable of summoning real feeling and mercilessly berating himself for not breaking down or on occasion wishing the worst on those he supposedly loved.

The supporting characters suffered by comparison, wildcat cameraman Marco was a jumble of unstable dialects whilst Mossman’s Canadian lover Louie was utterly repellent, but confusion remained as to whether that was truly the intention. Paul Ritter as Robin Day, however, was great fun, filling the space between pantomime villain and man of principle convincingly in a series of short appearances that quickly rose above caricature.

In total it was, however, a beautiful, elegiac swandive towards a death that had spent so much time justifying itself, however obliquely, that the final tone was oddly triumphant, robbed of the biting note of tragedy it surely deserves.

As in Frost/Nixon, but perhaps not as effectively, it deftly uses events and personalities with which we’re broadly familiar to create a snapshot of uncertain times, of the death of idealism, and the notion of the public and private face.

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2 thoughts on “Death of a Newsman

  1. You’re right about Ben Chaplin, whose stunning performance provides yet another reason to forgive him for The Truth About Cats and Dogs. But I thought The Reporter – and Fincher’s latest movie Zodiac – both raise a more general question. Can you set up a central mystery at the start of a play, a film, a TV show, and not provide some sort of resolution at the end? OK, you can, obviously – both The Reporter and Zodiac do. So maybe the more interesting question is, how do you do this without leaving the audience feeling dissatisfied and conned? I fear The Reporter didn’t quite manage it, whereas Zodiac did. And – unlike The Reporter – I’m going to have a go at answering the question rather than just leaving it hanging.

    I think Zodiac’s success lies in giving its main character a story that is resolved, even though the mystery of the Zodiac’s identity isn’t. The Reporter’s main character, on the other hand, was himself the mystery, and perhaps this is why it didn’t quite succeed. A character narrating his own life story but unable to answer the biggest questions about himself kind of defeats the object of having a narrator in the first place – and definitely can leave an audience feeling short-changed. It’s like Poirot gathering all the suspects in a room, saying ‘I know one of you here killed Colonel Smythe’, and then just walking out. If anyone knew the answer to his own suicide, it was Mossman, so for him (and for author Nicholas Wright) not to tell us seemed capricious. But then again, maybe that was entirely in character…

  2. It reminds me a little bit, strangely enough, of an episode of the Simpsons, where Homer remembers something his spirit guide told him and pictures him appearing. He then asks a question and is told “This is just your memory. I can’t give you any new information.” This is how Mossman appears, in a sense, ghostly, a hologram whipped up from notes and writings, but unable to give us any more truth than already exists. Mossman the character is not Mossman the man, he is Mossman the amalgam of a thousand fragments which can be pieced together, certainly, but do not reveal a larger truth.

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