Making the Grades
Not one shot is fired in the Civil War movie Copperhead. Not one cannon ball explodes. Not one bloody war injury is shown. But that doesn’t mean a fierce battle isn’t brewing in an upstate New York town where the lines of demarcation are drawn as decisively as they are on the frontline.
In this tiny community, Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) is an anomaly—a Democrat who strongly opposes Lincoln and the war efforts to free the slaves. He disagrees with the call for young men and boys to march off to fight. But his opinions don’t sit well with his staunchly Republican neighbors who begin to shun him, suddenly questioning the quality of his milk and lumber products and initially refusing to let him cast his vote in an election. Even the local minister (Brian Downey) berates Abner’s opinion from the pulpit.
However the feud that divides the nation becomes even more personal for Abner when his son Jeff (Casey Thomas Brown) enlists to fight for the North. The young man leaves behind his family and his girl (Lucy Boynton), the daughter of a scripture-thumping widower (Angus Macfadyen) who is as opposed to Jeff and Esther’s friendship as Abner is. But Jeff’s decision to fight for Republican ideals doesn’t appease the neighbors who gather outside of Abner’s house, shouting threats and building a blazing fire to light their torches from. Unfortunately as their passions rise to a fevered pitch, the war begins to exact a toll even among the members of this tiny town who are far from the warfront.
Based on the novel by Harold Frederic, Copperhead offers a viewpoint of the war that differs from both Lincoln and the classic Gone With the Wind. Independent filmmaker Ronald Maxwell, who directed Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, peels open a story that gets to the very heart of the war that torn apart families, communities and the nation.
While the film depicts some maimed soldiers returning home, a fistfight at an election poll and a huge fire that destroys a home, a suicide may be the most unsettling scene of violence. Brief profanities and a couple of scenes of drinking are also shown along with the rising tensions among neighbors. However for teens and adults, Copperhead is a powerful, though slow moving, look at the price one man and his family pays to exercise their right for conscientious decent, and the high cost that comes on the home front.
Release Date: 28 June 2013 (Limited)
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Copperhead.
One young soldier says that the war you read about in the newspaper isn’t the same as the real war. How can the media influence the way people see the conflict? How might newspaper (or TV) reports be used to either promote or hamper war efforts? How can those reports alter the way the public perceives returning soldiers?
How are religious people depicted in this movie? How does this portrayal promote stereotypes that may not be true?
Why does Abner refer to war as a fever? Can people lose a sense of reason when their passions become inflamed? How do the townsfolk respond to Abner? What does he do to provoke the situation?
Learn more about the American Civil War.