Bombshell is a fascinating exploration of power – a pre-Harvey Weinstein true story of female sexual harassment in the American workplace. Set between 2015 and 2016, it’s the story of how several women working at media outfit Fox News came together to bring down Roger Ailes, the CEO who helped turn Rupert Murdoch’s current affairs cable channel into a world-beater.
Scripted by Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for his work on The Big Short, the story primarily follows the fate of three women: rising anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), veteran presenter Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and naïve newcomer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a composite character based on the experiences of several women.
Directed by Jay Roach, this dialogue-heavy drama unfolds at a rate of knots, with the film impressing in its evocatively staged look at a high-pressure newsroom environment. It’s a world where the women are made to wear shorter skirts by the tyrannical Ailes (John Lithgow, brilliant), who fosters an atmosphere of fear amongst his employees.
Worse still, Ailes has a history of preying on his female employees – as seen when he invites Kayla into his office and creepily requests she hitch up her skirt so he can take a look at her figure. If ever there was a perfect example of the horrors of sexual harassment, then this is it. It might just be the finest moment of Robbie’s career to date (and like Theron, she is rightly up for an Oscar).
Whilst these women are somewhat isolated from each other, locked in their own stories, there is a coming together, thanks to the bravery of Carlson and the motivation of Kelly, who begins the film with her own battle against Donald Trump, then in the early stages of his election campaign to become president.
Theron, who has been given a prosthetics makeover by Kazu Hiro, the artist who turned Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, is also on ragingly good form as Kelly. You may disagree with Kelly’s right-wing politics, but there can be no denying that she was instrumental in exposing a vile harassment culture at Fox News.
With added value from Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney, as well as Malcolm McDowell as Murdoch (a perfect choice), there’s also a throbbing score by Theodore Shapiro to get under your skin. Arriving in the month that Harvey Weinstein is on trial, Bombshell feels like a vital film for the era.
Bombshell opens on 17 January. For more details, visit here.
1. All stills from Bombshell.