When RKO Pictures began work on production number 281, no one could have imagined that they were making perhaps the greatest American film of all time. But the moment Orson Welles (played by Liev Schreiber) announced that he intended to make a film based on the life of tyranical multi-millionaire publisher William Randolph Hearst (James Cromwell), they knew that they had trouble on their hands. Welles, the enfant terrible of American theater and a household name thanks to his infamous radio adaptation of H.G. Wells's "The War Of The Worlds," was signed to direct films for RKO, and he was given an unusually free hand to make whatever sort of film he wanted. But what Welles didn't count on was the power of Hearst to keep his film from being seen. RKO 281 is based on the true story of the making of Citizen Kane and the war of words between Welles and Hearst. It also stars Melanie Griffith as Hearst's mistress Marion Davies, John Malkovich as screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, Brenda Blethyn as Hearst's movie columnist Louella Parsons, and Roy Scheider as George Schaefer.
by Mark Deming synopsis