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Sat, 28 January 2023

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Moving, subtle and revealing: Jess Phillips reviews 'She Said'

Moving, subtle and revealing: Jess Phillips reviews 'She Said'

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey | Alamy

4 min read

She Said’s portrayal of the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual crimes is brilliantly done

It could be said that I am the absolute target audience for the film She Said so perhaps my review is biased. That said, regardless of a life of activism in the subject matter, I tend not to watch tales of abuse and violence in my down time – I prefer to escape from my reality. It was therefore a blessed relief to watch a film about how the now well-known story of Harvey Weinstein’s industrial level of abuses was broken and find not even one second of male gaze in the film. This is rarer than you might think in the portrayal of men’s violence against women, it is so often even when done with good intentions shown from the view of a perpetrator gazing down on a cowering victim, as if we have to see the battered woman to believe it. Not in She Said. The women’s stories are told and received with grace, their explanations for why they signed silencing agreements, or never told the police, is explained so well that the film should be used as a training tool for professionals. Women’s voices shine in this film, none of them seem weak, which again is a rarity in such portrayals. 

The central characters of the New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan are brilliantly done. The cat and mouse thriller element of the film keeps you on edge throughout, even though we all know the outcome of their investigation. No mean feat. It is however in the tiredness and despondency that their performances shine. Both are young mothers juggling work and life and both have reason throughout to ask if their fight, and the hatred they suffer from their feminist reporting, will result in any actual change. This is rarely portrayed as well – even the best biopics and dramas based on feminist struggles, of which there have been many of late, plump for rallying calls and victorious scenes rather than on the journey. They are knackered women, knackered by the fact that powerful men get away with stuff and that really comes across.

The film keeps you on edge throughout even though we all know the outcome of their investigation. No mean feat

It’s subtle and moving and every woman who ever tried to fight anything will recognise it. There is a moment in the film when the story the reporters are trying to uncover has a breakthrough – it’s handled just in a simple phone call on screen – and Kantor cries as she hears the news. I know those tears; I’ve cried them, when all of your efforts might just pay off and you cannot believe it; you can’t believe it because all of your conditioning and experience to date as a woman is that this stuff is just the way it is. It’s not a big cry, it’s not overplayed – it’s the cry of a tired woman. It made me cry.

I am friends with one of the women whose story is told in the film; I have worked with Zelda Perkins, Weinstein’s one time assistant who tried for years to stand up against the machine that was Miramax. I thought it might be cringy to watch a woman I know on screen; she is played by the brilliant Samantha Morton and I needn’t have worried. Morton absolutely nailed the determination and courage of the woman I know. A woman who in her early 20s tried to call out Harvey Weinstein to his face, who tried to make Miramax act to protect the women on its payroll and who was silenced and controlled by them for decades.

I learned things I didn’t know about the story of the exposé on Weinstein from watching She Said, which as someone who was heavily involved in the cases of many of the women in the aftermath is a nice surprise. We all know the ending; this is after all the moment that sparked a global movement of women talking about the abuses they had suffered, a fact the film reminds us of as it closes. I guess for me, and for Zelda Perkins, the thing that shouldn’t be taken from this film is a sense of victory. Yes Weinstein is in jail – but the contracts he used to silence women in the United Kingdom and around the world are still an everyday occurrence and are still completely legal. I guess I’m looking forward to the sequel to She Said – “She Said 2: and nobody could tell her she couldn’t”.

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding

She Said
Directed by: Maria Schrader
Broadcaster: General cinema release

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