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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid