Dalton Trumbo’s screenwriting credits include classics such as Exodus, Papillon and Spartacus. Indeed, the famous scene where all of Spartacus’ loyal men declare they are Spartacus to protect their beloved leader has an extraordinary ironic resonance when you learn about Trumbo’s own life.
He was one of many filmmakers and artists to be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee and was accused of being a Communist. After refusing to answer their questions or point the finger at his friends he was jailed for 12 months for contempt of Congress. He was then sacked by MGM and found himself unable to find work as he was on the infamous ‘blacklist’.
Nick Waring plays Trumbo’s son Christopher, who wrote and compiled the piece, and fondly recalls his memories of his Father and links the series of his letters which are read with mesmerising conviction, wry humour and towering indignation by Corin Redgrave.
Trumbo writes to former colleagues and rails against the unofficial blacklist, pointing out that in fact it is the producers and studio managers, not the politicians, who are the persecutors as the blacklist is their doing, and by creating it they have compounded the witch hunt, displayed their own cowardice and, he darkly suggests, exposed their own latent prejudices.
Along with the pertinent and, as you would expect from an award winning writer, powerfully phrased letters to those who should know better we hear of his self-imposed exile living with his family in Mexico and his declaration that he was “as broke as a bankrupt’s bastard”. However after many years in the wilderness he manages to get scripts accepted under various pseudonyms and despite the machinations of the Writer’s Guild and studio bosses even wins an Oscar.
John Dove directs with a light touch and the set design by Michael Taylor is a striking and stylish montage of film stills. The lighting and sound design by Phil Hewitt is also subtle and evocative.
This is a shocking tale of persecution which stands as a potent warning to society today, but ultimately it is an uplifting one as we relish the eventual victory of a brilliant and principled man over bigotry and oppression. He was Spartacus!
- Keith Myers