Making the Grades
An assassination of a US President is never an open and shut case. Decades after the death of John F. Kennedy, books upon books are filled with theories about how many people were involved in the murder of America’s 35th leader. And nearly 100 years prior to that dreadful day, the nation’s first presidential assassination took place with the shooting of Abraham Lincoln.
The Conspirator doesn’t doubt for a moment that John Wilkes Booth (played by Toby Kebbell) was the man who fired the pistol. Booth was a popular actor at the time and, as such, had an easily recognized face that publically proclaimed the death as the South’s revenge. Instead this movie questions exactly who else was involved and to what degree.
After the horrific incident at the Ford Theater, government agents quickly rounded up any persons that had even a remote relationship with Booth—including Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the operator of a boarding house where he and some acquaintances often met. She was also the mother of John Surratt (Johnny Simmons), a young man thought to be part of the crime.
Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is the rookie lawyer who reluctantly agrees to represent Mary at the trial. With no love for the South, his initial bias against the accused woman is hardly veiled. But as the case unfolds, he begins to question his own feelings as well as the military’s motives that might well be compared to a lynch mob.
Directed by Robert Redford, the production firmly subscribes to the theory that Mary is guilty only by association. Yet as evidence against her son John (who has evaded arrest by seeking asylum in Canada) continues to mount, the prosecutor’s determination to convict only increases. Adding to the pressure is the state’s desire to avenge Lincoln’s death by making a public display of the Confederate instigators behind the plot. And Mary’s neck in a noose would certainly help to satisfy that requirement.
As violent as this sounds, The Conspirator is essentially a courtroom drama. The opening 20 minutes contain some unsettling scenes that may cause concern, including the shot that kills Lincoln and (even more disturbing) the brutal stabbing of Secretary of State William H. Seward while he is bedridden from a previous injury. (Assassinations of Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson were also planned on that same evening, but only Lincoln’s wounds proved fatal.) Near the end, the movie depicts the hanging of four people. However the film doesnt delve into gory blood effects or gratuitous details. Nor does it include sexual content, and mild profanities are used sparingly. Thanks to these content constraints, Redford has created a film that should be suitable for most teens.
Intelligent and thought provoking, this script will certainly intrigue anyone with an interest in history. It will also capture the attention of audiences seeking a high quality drama. Aided by solid performances and an authentic representation of the period, The Conspirator is the first film from The American Film Company, whose mission is to bring true stories about America’s past to the screen. One can only hope they will continue to recreate history in the future.
Release Date: 15 April 2011(Limited)
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Conspirator.
The Conspirator is the first film made by The American Film Company, an organization dedicated to creating movies about American history. Their website is located at www.theamericanfilmcompany.com. They also have extensive historical resources that may be accessed by clicking the link near the top of the page labeled "Talk History."
For more information about President Lincoln’s assassination, check out these sites: