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She Said review – impactful, unfrilly storytelling about Weinstein’s fall from grace

Maria Schrader's powerfully-acted film shows how journalistic integrity and female solidarity sparked a global movement

In the opening scenes of She Said, we see small smiles shared between women – strangers – during busy mornings on the streets of New York. They reflect an unspoken solidarity shared between subjugated members of the same group: subtle, fleeting signs of support that, deployed in the right moment, can change everything. Maria Schrader’s film, about how two female journalists broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long reign of abuse in Hollywood, ascends above its ostensibly tasteless premise thanks to these adherences to nuance. Reflecting Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s own journalistic rigor, the film is detailed, unhurried, and uninterested in anything but the truth.

That’s not to entirely ignore the question of why it exists in the first place. Many protested that it was too soon after the fact, too hypocritical to come out of a major studio that existed within the same Petri dish that silently stood by while Weinstein’s sexual assaults continued as an open secret. But without straying into a “girlbossy” realm, the importance here is the bravery of the women who doggedly pursued justice and shared their stories despite vicious NDA clauses and threats. It is the power of these women – Meghan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Ashley Judd, Lauren O’Connor, Laura Madden, Zelda Perkins, Rowena Chiu, and countless others – and the sensitively felt, unsensationally powerful performances by the women playing them, that feel pertinent here.

Schrader, known for hit Netflix series Unorthodox and sci-fi rom-com I’m Your Man, directs Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s tasteful script with an attentive sleight of hand, dispensing with crass flashbacks in favour of lingering, haunting shots of empty hotel rooms and corridors, filmed with heavy implications of horror without the need to showboat. The film deals smartly with the emotions of anger and trauma, spelling its thesis of how we must not police the anger of the oppressed without the need to spoon-feed it to the viewer. Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton are two highlights in the supporting cast, emanating power, pathos and grace, but it’s Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan who impress the most as the two journalists who fought for this story to be heard.

The film is a catnip to those partial to the “they knew!” genre of rifling-through-a-cabinet flicks in the vein of Spotlight or All the President’s Men, with some of the normal trappings this presents: the neglected home life, the personal strain. And do people really make important work calls while strutting down the street, hair blowing in the wind, balancing a coffee? But Mulligan and Kazan always feel like real people, not gods, or heroes, or “she-roes,” or martyrs, and for a story about Hollywood – by Hollywood – that alone feels quietly impressive.

There’s a long way to go. The film industry, and the audiences who turn up to watch this, can’t pat themselves on the back quite yet – the inappropriate male guffawing in the screening I attended is testament to this alone, as well as the lingering deification of alleged abusers from Johnny Depp to Brad Pitt (Pitt’s own Plan B Entertainment co-produced She Said). It’s a shadow that the film will struggle to shake.

Yet what remains impressive about She Said is that it is gripping enough by merely showing how, step-by-step, journalistic integrity and female solidarity triumphed, at least this time. With one defiant click of the “publish” button on the New York Times’ CMS, a bully was toppled and a worldwide movement against sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond was born. Let’s celebrate the beauty and the bravery in that.

She Said was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. It will be released in UK cinemas on 25 November.

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