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Let’s just say, I don’t agree with many of the reviews of “The Conspirator”.  One reviewer compared it to a “Law & Order” episode!!  Wait a minute…he didn’t mean it that way, but isn’t that a compliment?

It’s not that I really like every movie I see, it’s just that I pick the ones that usually don’t disappoint me.

“The Conspirator” is in that category.

A firm believer that one should not get one’s history from Hollywood, and there’s a post a comin’ about that topic, I like to fact check before I go and when I get home.

I love period piece movies, and I love costume dramas.  Imagine that!

“The Conspirator” is a new film directed by Robert Redford, released on April 15, the 150 anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. 

It’s really good.  (The movie, not the assassination!!)

Some reviews have pooh-poohed “Redford’s stage like direction”, but I didn’t see that.

The story is of Mary Surratt, the owner of the boarding house where the Lincoln Assissination plot was supposedly planned.  Or more importantly, about her trial and the young, former Union Captain, Frederick Aiken, who defended her.

Mary Surratt

Robin Wright, formerly Robin Wright Penn, plays Surratt, and James McAvoy plays Aiken.  Both are great.

Wright as Surratt

The story is very close to history.  And very important in today’s time.

Mary Surratt ran a boarding house on H Street in Washington, DC.  John Wilkes Booth was never a resident, but he was a frequent visitor.  Mary’s son, John Surratt, Jr. was a Confederate Courier and spy who passed information, contraband, and messages across enemy lines.  Mary Surratt was truly a Rebel, a Confederate, and made no bones about it.  But she was probably unaware of the details of the assassination plot.

And she hardly got a fair trial.  Her trial was a war-time military tribunal.  Sound familiar?  The movie, although good and historically correct has an underlying message.  9-11, military trials, habeas corpus, all that stuff we hear today.

Surratt had witnesses in her defense, all who under the assumed and presumed threat of incarceration, ended UP testifying against her.  She was forbidden to speak in her own defense.

Aiken’s valiant efforts to get her a fair trial are thwarted at every turn.  The end conclusion was foregone at the beginning.  The outcome, even her execution, which most of the tribunal was against, was orchestrated by the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, who by the way, is brilliantly portrayed by none other than Kevin Kline.  He’s about the best actor in the movie. 

Stanton ran the War Department (now called The Department of Defense…to the shame of all of us) with an iron fist, and was part of Lincoln’s Team Of Rivals.  (A great book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.)

“The Conspirator” is beautifully filmed, the costumes are on point, and the characters chosen to play the main parts are alarming “look alikes” for the real people.

Scenery, sets, attention to detail – all excellent.

The movie was filmed in Savannah. The real places where the story occured in Washington, D.C., no longer look anything like they did in the Civil War.  Surratt’s boarding house  is now “Wok and Roll”, a Chinese restaurant.  Which, I might add, is a shame!

Story – great, even though, assuming you’ve stayed awake in history class, you know the end result.

Acting – very, very good. 

Accuracy – 9.0…timelines…timelines, usually compressed to make the movie watchable, often distort history.

It’s not for everyone, you really have to like history and costume dramas, but if you do, it’s a must see.

The main character is of course, Surratt, however, the movie is really Aiken’s story.  Protagonist and antagonist at the same time, your empathy meter is in high gear throughout the film.

Aiken, a Union hero, Union Captain, and Lawyer, is forced by his employer to defend Surratt, whom he originally believed was guilty.  It ruined his career, his social standing, and his relationship.  But, he survived, left the law, and became a newspaperman in Washington.  He eventually be came the editor of “The Washington Post”.

I guess it’s true,  revenge is best served cold, and in print!

Go see it!

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