The first trailer for Julia Roberts’ new thriller tv show Gaslit has just dropped. The upcoming Starz network limited series centers on Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell, an Arkansas celebrity who was once one of the most famous women in America. In the 1970s, she was married to John Mitchell (who will be portrayed by Sean Penn), at the time the Attorney General of the United States during the Nixon administration. Martha Mitchell was one of the first people to alert the media to President Nixon’s use of so-called “dirty tricks” during his 1972 re-election campaign, which eventually led to the revelation of the Watergate break-in and by extension, Nixon’s resignation in disgrace. You can see the trailer here:
The trailer shows Julia Roberts with a bouffant hairdo as Martha Mitchell, being interviewed and repeatedly referenced as being “outspoken,” or code for being a woman who spoke directly. Sean Penn also appears as John N. Mitchell in almost unrecognizably heavy makeup that makes him look a bit like an older version of his dirtbag lawyer character from Carlito’s Way. The trailer makes great use of Roberts’ innate movie star persona and screen presence to convey the charisma of Martha Mitchell, and why she was considered such a notable presence in the Washington DC social scene of the time. Then the trailer moves into darker territory, as Martha Mitchell begins to see figures emerging out of shadows and stern looking doctors inform her that “women [her] age” often have paranoid (ie, wrong) episodes. As the title Gaslit indicates, this is a series about a very real political campaign to discredit an outspoken woman.
In real life, the woman played by Julia Roberts was kidnapped in 1972 by security guards employed by President Nixon’s re-election campaign. She was held in a hotel for 24 hours, drugged and beaten. After her release, Nixon aides stated that she had a drinking problem. Following the kidnapping, Martha Mitchell was vilified by conservatives as an insane alcoholic, and it was only years later that the security director of Nixon’s re-election campaign admitted that they had been behind the horrific incident. The term “Martha Mitchell effect” is now used informally by psychologists to describe medical personnel attributing delusional insanity to patients’ real experiences. Pretty amazingly awful.
Gaslit is sure to be a searing look into the world that such mistreatment could happen. Of course, it’s not very different from our current one. The security guard who kidnapped Martha Mitchell, Stephen King, was later appointed US Ambassador to the Czech Republic by the Trump administration and has not denied his involvement in the incident. Gaslit is based on a season of the podcast Slow Burn by Leon Neyfakh, and is part of a growing number of shows being adapted from the medium. Julia Roberts has already found great success with the new format, having starred in the first season of the similarly podcast-adapted Homecoming. That show was critically adored, currently holding a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Julia Roberts will also be starring in an upcoming romantic comedy with George Clooney, so we can all enjoy a couple changes of pace.