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The newspaper movie used to be an established genre in Hollywood, and a consistently popular one. No more: Even as newspapers themselves struggle to survive in the 21st century, such classic films of the past as “The Front Page,” “Call Northside 777” and “Deadline USA” are gradually growing less comprehensible to younger viewers. For this reason alone, anyone who knows anything about the raffish history of print journalism will delight in James Graham’s “Ink,” which has transferred to Broadway after a highly successful London run. It’s a big, loud, aggressively funny play that turns the newsroom clock back to 1969 to tell a fictionalized version of the improbable but true story of how Rupert Murdoch (played by Bertie Carvel) came to England from Australia, bought The Sun and turned it into the hottest tabloid in town, in the process eating the lunch of the Daily Mirror, then London’s “respectable” working-class paper. Staged at a headlong hurtle by Rupert Goold and featuring excitingly raucous performances by Mr. Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Larry Lamb, the incoming editor of The Sun, “Ink” moves at so brisk a gallop that the intermission break will catch you off guard.
The Sun is, among other things, the paper that became notorious for boosting its circulation by breaking England’s unofficial ban on printing photos of bare-chested women in newspapers (they ran on the third page of The Sun from 1970 to 2015, and the models who posed for them came to be known as “Page 3 girls”). In “Ink,” the introduction of the first Page 3 girl (played by Rana Roy) becomes the final step in the process by which Messrs. Murdoch and Lamb turn a once-staid paper into a hard-charging tabloid that gives the people plenty of what they want: sex, crime, sports, gossip, “free stuff” and cultural coverage that emphasizes movies, TV and—yes—rock and roll. What’s more, this transformation is for the most part presented non-judgmentally, as a success story rather than a melancholy fable of journalistic virtue besmirched….
It’s no secret that the real Mr. Murdoch (who is the executive chairman of News Corp, which owns both The Sun and this paper) is widely regarded by Britain’s chattering classes as the devil incarnate. This makes it downright flabbergasting that Mr. Graham has portrayed him with seemingly genuine sympathy in “Ink.” How is such a thing possible, especially given the fact that the British stage, like the American stage, is a monoculture in which pretty much everyone lists to the left?
The answer is that “Ink” is not so much about politics, or even journalism, as it is about the British class system, and specifically about the proclivity of bowler-hatted toffs in old-school ties to sneer at the lesser breeds who read, write, edit and (ahem) publish tabloids. Mr. Graham knows that you needn’t be on the right to bristle at such snobbery…
* * *Read the whole thing here.
Excerpts from Ink:
A 1969 TV story about Rupert Murdoch’s entry into the English media market: