Based on a script developed by his late father Jack Fincher, ‘Mank’ is the 11th directorial venture of David Fincher (‘The Social Network’). The film revolves around Herman J. Mankiewicz AKA Mank (Gary Oldman), a veteran scriptwriter who gets commissioned for writing the script for 24-year-old radio and theater personality Orson Welles’ debut feature. While Mank is recuperating from a car accident, Welles approaches him and requests him to write a script about the publishing business.
He asks Mank to base it on his experience with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), the biggest media mogul of the time. Mank accepts the job, and as with several of his other projects, agrees to forego the writing credits. Welles then moves him to the quiet North Verde Ranch in Victorville, California, so he can be as far as possible from all his vices and focus entirely on writing. To help him, Welles hires a British typist/secretary, Rita Alexander, and a nurse/housekeeper, Fräulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann).
Welles also sends his longtime collaborator John Houseman (Sam Troughton) to keep a careful watch over Mank. As Rita helps his desperate efforts to meet the 60-day deadline, a poignant friendship develops between the two. In real life, her experience during these months deeply affected her. She remained one of Mank’s staunchest supporters for the remainder of her life. Lily Collins (‘Tolkien’) portrays her in the film.
Who Was Rita Alexander?
Not much is known about Rita Alexander’s life before she met Mank. The film portrays her as British. “She types 100 perfect words a minute, and takes diction like a clairvoyant,” Houseman describes her to Mank. Fincher clearly introduced some changes to Rita’s character when he brought her to the screen. In the film, she is married to an RAF officer named Ian, who goes missing after the aircraft carrier on which he was serving at the time is attacked by the German forces and sinks.
It isn’t until the last act of the film that she finds out that Ian is alive and had been stranded at the Orkney Islands. According to the real Houseman, Rita’s real husband was a newly-arrived European refugee. Fincher likely made the changes to induce an amount of dramatic contention between the two characters, especially because of Mank’s isolationist views. Rita likely met Mank for the first time in 1940. That week, the ever-charming scriptwriter convinced Rita to take him into the town for drinking.
After Sara Mankiewicz dropped by and set the rules, ignoring his persuasive words became easier for her. Both Rita and Houseman strongly believed that the script of ‘Citizen Kane’ was solely and wholly written by Mank, without any contribution by Welles whatsoever. She was also one of his well-wishers who convinces Mank to successfully seek credit for the film. Mank named the female main character in the script, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), after her.