WITH the way that President Donald Trump has consistently and vehemently protested against the “lying fake news media”, you’d think that this flashy and judicious offering from Steven Spielberg was made specifically as an answer to those ridiculous attacks on a free press. Instead it’s something of a happy or, depending on the way you look at it, concerning coincidence that gives further credence to its true story.

The pre-Watergate scandal plot concerns the Washington Post’s struggle in 1971 to publish the infamous leaked Pentagon Papers, thousands of documents that revealed the extent of the Nixon-led government’s prolonged involvement in Vietnam that would cause quite a splash if it were to hit the headlines.

This certainly puts Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to the test as the inheriting first female owner of a major newspaper, fighting to command respect and coming to conversational blows with the paper’s domineering editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is raring to get the story published were it not for various legal and ethical barriers.

It may lack a certain kind of subtlety, but the film makes precise points about misogyny and the patronising tone of the male-dominated newspaper world at the time. At one point she amusingly recollects the viewpoint over the idea of a woman running a paper as “like a dog walking on its hind legs; it is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all”.

Streep fits her role perfectly, her presence looming large over the proceedings, chewing on the extended dialogue and bravura speeches like nobody’s business. It’s no surprise that she and Hanks have terrific chemistry. A stellar supporting cast including everyone from Bob Odenkirk to Matthew Rhys to Bradley Whitford do great work but feel like purposefully placed auxiliary players that allow the Streep and Hanks dynamic – flitting between charming chit-chat of old buddies and fervent disagreement of news folk – to command attention.

There’s no getting around that the spectre of the Oscar-winning Spotlight – a far more powerfully understated film also about the prohibited publication of explosive information – haunts Spielberg’s newsworthy telling. That film, also written by screenwriter Josh Singer, got into the nitty-gritty of what the devastating true story had to say, while this goes more for the flashy headlines and results in a lesser film.

But there’s no doubting the passion and sincerity involved. Its oratory is compelling, its plotting talky without fumbling over its own words and, in a way that few directors other than Spielberg could, it makes sure its unashamedly idealised points about freedom of the press and political culpability stand loud, proud and are as timely now as they were back then.