The Reagan Show (3 stars)

The Reagan Show

Entertaining documentary about the titular president that is, at times, devastatingly relevant

As a portrait of a president, The Reagan Show is more well-observed snapshot than detailed political tapestry. Constructing their film entirely from archive footage, directors Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill intend not to present an overarching view of Ronald Reagan's time in the White House (which ran from 1981 to 1989) but to focus entirely on the Commander in Chief as a celebrity, PR machine and media manipulator.

An early caption informs us that the Reagan Administration's use of film to document his presidency was unprecedented, generating as much footage as the five previous administrations combined. A considerable amount of – often candid – White House television footage is used here, stitched together with interviews and newscasts to focus on America's arms race with the Soviet Union, in which Reagan met his match in the similarly showboating Mikhail Gorbachev.

This central theme of the president as an actor, playing the role of a lifetime, is effective, offering up moments that are both farcical and, at times, terrifying. Sequences where Reagan bumbles his way through a kids' camp singalong, or is fed lines at the podium by unflappable wife Nancy, contrast with scenes in which reporters' questions are deliberately drowned out by helicopter rotors, and treaties are signed – such as the controversial 'arms for hostages' deal with Iraq – which underscores the fact that that the president often holds the fate of the world in his hands.

Parallels with Trump are, of course, obvious and plentiful. Political pundits accuse Reagan of spending too much time on holiday, of not knowing enough about policy, of being more concerned with pomp and circumstance than the business of running the country. The nuclear issue is, too, a devastatingly relevant theme; 'These crazy people want to destroy the entire world and everyone in it,' laments a woman to a reporter in a piece of news footage that could have been shot today.

Entertaining, insightful and pertinent, The Reagan Show is no nostalgic trip down memory lane; rather, it's a timely reminder that, in modern politics, all the world's a stage (or a Twitter feed). We just need to keep looking behind the curtain.

Selected release from Fri 6 Oct.

The Reagan Show

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 14min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez,
  • Cast: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush
  • UK release: 6 October 2017

Documentary portrait of Ronald Reagan’s time in the White House, from 1981–1989, using entirely archive footage and effectively illustrating the theme of the president as actor, in ways that are both farcical and terrifying. Entertaining, insightful and pertinent; the parallels with today are all too clear.