Sunday, January 13, 2013

History in Film: The Conspirator

Since getting Netflix last month I have had the opportunity of watching tons of movies I have not seen. This has afforded me the opportunity again to starting reviewing historically focused films. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Redford "The Conspirator" was a compelling movie about the trial of Mary Surratt who in real life was convicted for conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. The movie focuses on Frederick Aiken the attorney who was assigned to defend her in front of a military court.

Frederick Aiken was a Union soldier and lawyer who was pushed by U.S. Senator from Maryland Reverdy Johnson to represent Mary Surratt. Despite his protests Aiken continued with the trial and although he originally felt contempt for Mary Surratt, he soon had compassion for her and although he was never sure of her innocent he believed she deserved a fair trial. The movie seemed to assume that Mary Surratt was being falsely accused and was clearly innocent. As I watch these types of movies I always have to remind myself that they are trying to make money off this film, a villain has be created to fight the hero. Watching the trial frustrates you at times because of how they seem to have predetermined her fate without hearing any real evidence. You end up actually hating the military commission who is in charge of the trial. You especially begin to hate Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, played by Kevin Kline. Kline is easily one of my favorite actors and he shows why in this film. His portrayal of Stanton captured what many in the North where thinking and feeling about any even closely associated with the assassination of Lincoln. Through some various research I believe this film did a great job at historical accuracy about the story of Surratt's trial. The film also did a wonderful job at placing you in the time period, making you believe you were in the nineteenth century.

This is actually the first major film completed by the American Film Company whose goal is to create appealing films that hold on to historical accuracy at the same time. This can be a difficult task in today's film watching public but "The Conspirator" actually does a great job at doing both. I look forward to more of their films in the future. I encourage you to read a review written in HNN (History News Network). It highlights AHA (American Historical Association) members who screened the film and gave their thoughts on its entertainment factor and historical accuracy. One thing that is brought up that I adamantly disagree with is there argument that the film lacked accuracy when it failed to mention slavery anywhere within the film. What they seem to be missing is that this is a small story within a much greater context that is the Civil War. Slavery was a major factor in the conflict however telling this story the way they did does no take away from big picture. It does not make people simply forget about slavery and the horrors it comes with. Just because I tell someone a funny story about something that happened to me does not mean I have to mention my one-year old son randomly in the conversation. He is one of the most important things in my life but I do not have to insert him in every topic I bring up to prove that. His importance in my life is not diminished, even slightly. Overall I it's a great article that highlights the historical accuracy of the film and how pleased most of the members were with its outcome.

Entertainment Value - 3.5 out of 5
Historical Accuracy - 4.5 out of 5

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