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Film review: Trumbo - top Hollywood screenwriter receives placid biopic treatment

Helen Mirren shines in this story of the 1950s anti-communist witch-hunt in Hollywood

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 3:06pm

A placid film about an important subject, Trumbo tells the story of the eponymous screenwriter who was imprisoned for being a communist in 1940s America. It shows how Dalton Trumbo, a brilliant screenwriter, fought for the right to hold his communist beliefs during the anti-communist witch-hunt carried out by the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee.

The story is a neat mix of politics, Hollywood manipulation, and family life. In 1947, Trumbo and nine other communist screenwriters refused to testify in front of the committee, saying the US constitution protected their right to hold whatever political views they wished. “The Hollywood 10”, as they were known, were imprisoned in 1950 for their failure to testify.

READ MORE: Coen Brothers also take on the HUAC in Hail, Caesar!.

After 11 months in jail, Trumbo was released, but no one would employ a self-confessed communist writer. So he became a prolific anonymous scriptwriter, until Kirk Douglas brought him back into the public eye for his Spartacus script.

Bryan Cranston is a passable Trumbo, but he’s surpassed by Helen Mirren, who gives a powerhouse performance as meddlesome right-wing columnist Hedda Hopper.

READ ALSO: Why Bryan Cranston had to go large to capture Dalton Trumbo - ‘He was a very flamboyant man’

The political battles are all here, supported by newsreel clips and excellent re-enactments. Trumbo’s political beliefs are not examined in-depth, but the broad strokes work well enough. Even the portrayals – or, more accurately, impersonations – of screen legends like Kirk Douglas, John Wayne and Edward G. Robinson don’t jar.

Trumbo opens on March 17

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