The year 2022 marks fifty years since the Watergate affair. The miniseries Gaslit, available this Sunday on Starzplay, proposes to rediscover from a new angle this affair of political espionage which led, in 1974, to the resignation of Richard Nixon. This adaptation of the first season of the podcast Slow Burn, created by Robbie Pickering, plunges into the heart of one of the most resounding political scandals in history through the unknown actors, long neglected, but essential to the fall of the 37th President of the United States.
“I’ve always been obsessed with Nixon culture. Much of our media, of our political system started with Nixon. This culture of corruption is fascinating and still persists today”, says the creator Robbie Pickering, who had a lot of trouble setting up his project: “Nobody wanted it! It took me about ten years. The success of the podcast, centered on Martha, finally granted my wish”.
Martha Mitchell, Whistleblower
In an interview with David Frost in 1977, Richard Nixon said, “If it hadn’t been for Martha, there wouldn’t have been Watergate. “. The story of Gaslit is therefore centered on Martha Mitchell, interpreted by Julia Roberts, the wife of the faithful attorney general of Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, played by Sean Penn.
“When I was little, I looked again and again Nixon, The President’s Men… I like Alan Pakula probably more than most other directors. But all these movies, but also history books or biographies don’t really talk about Martha. Even to some extent, Woodward and Bernstein. Somehow they don’t really care about Martha and just comment on what a tragic figure she was and how sorry they are for John Mitchell. I’m trying to fix that,” says Robbie Pickering.
By publicly warning about Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, despite her membership in the party, she upsets American political life, but also her personal life. Her husband finds himself torn between his wife, whom he loves madly, and his unwavering loyalty to his friend, President Richard Nixon. “Martha was very complex. She was easy to discredit because she was an alcoholic, but she was also a hero. »
Two couples at the heart of the scandal
“When you read Martha’s story, it turns out, and it’s not in the podcast, that the crumbling of her marriage matches the duration of the scandal,” says Robbie Pickering. On the one hand, Gaslit shows how the scandal destroyed the couple formed by the Mitchells, on the other hand, the series also shows how Watergate united another couple, the one formed by John Dean, the White House legal adviser, and the one he has just married in 1972, Maureen Dean. A duo embodied on screen by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and Betty Gilpin (Nurse Jackie, Glow). “John and Mo Dean formed an interesting counterpoint: on the one hand, the complicity destroys the couple, on the other, it binds them in a rather strange way. There was a rather interesting point of intersection”, summarizes Robbie Pickering.
The series thus shows how connivance or heroism arise from these human stories. “I hope the show brings some hope to people, because even if these scandals continue, if we understand where they come from, we can better protect ourselves from them and have more consideration for people like Martha who express themselves,” concludes Robbie Pickering.