News / USA

Film Sheds New Light on Lincoln Assassination

'The Conspirator' directed by Robert Redford sheds new light on one of the most significant events in US history

Robin Wright portrays Mary Surratt and James McAvoy takes on the role of attorney Frederick Aiken in 'The Conspirator.'
Robin Wright portrays Mary Surratt and James McAvoy takes on the role of attorney Frederick Aiken in 'The Conspirator.'

Multimedia

Audio

Most Americans know that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. But they probably don’t know that Booth was part of a complex conspiracy. Booth was hunted down and shot by authorities 12 days after the assassination.

Four alleged conspirators were executed and another four were sentenced to prison. Now, a new film directed by Robert Redford sheds light on one of the most significant events in U.S. history

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln is shot while watching a play at the Ford’s Theater in Washington. He dies a short while later, and the U.S. is thrown into chaos.  

The assassin was John Wilkes Booth, an American stage actor. While most people believe Booth acted alone, there were actually eight others involved in a conspiracy targeting not only the president, but also the vice president and the secretary of state. Booth was caught and killed shortly after his escape. One of the conspirators got away but the rest were arrested and given prison sentences.

A new film called "The Conspirator," directed by Robert Redford, portrays the chaotic state of the government in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, which came just days after the Confederate south had surrendered to the Union north, marking the end of the Civil War.

The film focuses on the military trial of Mary Surratt, mother of the alleged conspirator who escaped. She is charged with conspiracy because she owns a boarding house where her son John Surratt held regular meetings with his fellow conspirators.

Frederick Aiken is an attorney who fought in the Union army against the south. At first he is reluctant to defend Surratt, partly because he feels he is betraying his comrades and also because he believes she is guilty. But he changes his mind after realizing she may not get a fair trial.

He thinks one way to help her is to find her son - the real conspirator. But an outraged Surratt refuses. While the film focuses on the relationship between Surratt and her attorney, another story unfolds as well - that of a devoted mother willing to do anything to save her son.

James McAvoy, Robert Redford and Robin Wright at the premiere of 'The Conspirator' at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC on April 10, 2011.
James McAvoy, Robert Redford and Robin Wright at the premiere of 'The Conspirator' at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC on April 10, 2011.

The film premiered recently at the same theater where President Lincoln was killed. Fans showed up to catch a glimpse of the stars and the dignitaries who attended.

Director Robert Redford explained that he was drawn to the story because "it was a story that nobody knew about."

"Everyone knew about the situation with Lincoln - everybody knew about that - but I found that very few people, if anybody, knew about an event connected to it, and I wanted to tell that story," he said.

He added that the story had another draw for him too.

"It’s really about a mother’s love for her son. Because her sacrifice of herself, her stubbornness and her feistiness, really has to do with protecting her son. That interested me - the emotionality of it."

Scottish stage and screen actor James McAvoy takes on the role of attorney Frederick Aiken.

"This incredibly young and vital and energetic country was tearing itself apart and then trying to put itself back together again. How was it going to do that? Was it going to do that lawfully or unlawfully?" said McAvoy. "And my character, who initially would have happily seen her hang unlawfully, comes around to loving his country even more, so much so that he understands that he has to love the law and he has to love the Constitution if he’s going to love his country and therefore he can’t let her hang."

The film's humanity appealed to actress Robin Wright, who plays the role of Mary Surratt.

"It’s not so much about historical evidence. We had those in the history books. It’s a real piece about human behavior," she said.

Fred Borch, a consultant on the film, says what the movie is trying to do is to show you that guilt or innocence aside, she didn’t get a fair trial, and nor did the others.

"The government was so afraid that if they didn’t stomp on this conspiracy, that there might be more attacks by the Confederates coming."

Robert Redford directs James McAvoy in 'The Conspirator.'
Robert Redford directs James McAvoy in 'The Conspirator.'

Borch says the story is based on the truth.

"Well I think it’s very accurate in the sense that you can’t duplicate the reality of April, 1865, but this is about as close as you can get. And one of the reasons is that the movie is mostly about a criminal trial and there was a court reporter who took down almost every word that was said in court."

Director Redford hopes the film will make people think of President Lincoln’s assassination in a different light.

"I’ve never deluded myself into thinking that films change anybody’s opinion, or has an impact that’s going to change policy or anything like that, but I would think that being aware of what happened and seeing how that process has repeated itself, might strike a chord. I would hope so."

You May Like

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs