The United States of America has rich history especially after its independence in the year 1776 where 44 presidents have led the country. Since George Washington era, there has been an array of events and occurrences, which have been documented in the U.S.A history. There are several mainstream media used to highlight some of these escapades and illuminate what happened during the yester years. In light of this, the Conspirator is a historical drama film that was filmed in 2010 and released in 2011. Written by James D. Solomon and directed by Robert Redford, The Conspirator focuses on the assassination of the American president, Abraham Lincoln. The events took place on April 14, 1865 immediately after the civil war the same day that the president met his demise under the hands of assassinators.The event occurred some hours after General Lee’s Confederate Army had surrendered. It is presumed that one person assassinated the president, but there were a series of people involved; hence, it is titled The Conspirator. Significantly, the orchestrators had planned to assassinate even the vice president but they were not successful.The film is not only concerned with the assassination but also the legal precedents it established. Therefore, this paper highlights the film summary in relation to the historical realism that occurred during the assassination. In addition, the paper relates the events occurring in the movie especially the manner in which the case was handled and the antiquity recorded in the history books.
The conspirator was among the first productions of the American Film Company that was founded with the aim of producing feature films. Feature films delineate the American history in their realism; hence, they have to quote accurate dates, locations, and characters. However, it is impossible to depict the actual events in a film and that is why the directors and producers spice them up with creativity. Robert Redford asserts that the main purpose of the film Conspirator is to aid learners or viewers at large to understand the compelling history and how it applies in today’s society. The film is shot on a location in Savannah, Ga, because it is believed the president met his death there. It runs for approximately 2 hours and 3 minutes and it is distributed by Lionsgate Roadside Attractions. It was officially released on April 2011 but distributed as from September 2011. The film received positive criticism as it was applauded for maintaining and bringing an expository method of understanding American history. The main cast members include James McAvoy who plays the role of captain Frederick Aiken, Robin Wright as Mary Sturratt, Toby Kebbel as John Booth and Justin Long as Nicholas Baker among others.
To begin with, the film displays scenes from the civil war where several people lose their lives or they are wounded. The Northerners emerge victorious and the war ceases exactly on 14 April 1865. The triumphant outcome makes the union veteran, Frederick Aiken, and some of his peers such as Hamiliton and Baker to jubilate. Moments later, Aiken and his girlfriend decides to stroll around admiring nature holding a little banter. The southerners are irked by the loss in the civil war whereas the president and his compatriots hail from the north. As a result, the southerners are strategically situated in the party where northerners are holding their victory celebrations. From the film, the viewer does not differentiate the northerners and southerners because they are dressed the same and they seem to be part of the celebration. However, as the film progresses, the viewer can understand that they were plotting something: hence, they had to camouflage. The party is held in a huge hall that has numerous rooms where each room has its own guests. The first event occurs when the character Payne, who is a southerner, tries to murder the secretary of state, William Seward, but his efforts comes to naught.
In another room, a group of theatre team with a play entertains guests and they seem absorbed into it. They applaud to every punch line and cheer the actors joyfully. Concurrently, an actor John Wikes Booth seems glued and all his attention carried away as he stares at one specific point for a while. That is when the viewer discovers that Booth has gained the sight of his target, the president. Without attracting any attention, he sneaks slowly into the president’s box shooting him and wounding his guest, Henry Rathbone, a military officer. Then the film focuses back to the ongoing play onstage where Booth emerges shouting, “Sic Semper Tyrannis! The South is avenged!” and he immediately vanishes. The assassination is well planned because Booth has a chariot waiting for him outside, which he uses to escape. The entire crowd inclusive of the Union Veteran and his friends watch helplessly as the president is taken to a nearby boarding house where he succumbs to his wounds the subsequent morning.
After this incident, the film switches attention to the trial of perpetrators who believed to have conspired to execute the assassination. Surprisingly, a woman named Mary Sturratt is captured as a premier suspect. Sturratt is accused of participating in the assassination by accommodating the orchestrators and sharing out information that would have eased their access to the president. Booth, the actual assassinator, and David Herold walk free for a number of days. Their freedom is short lived when soldiers set fire on a barn suspected to be their hiding place. Booth is shot to death by a soldier sergeant Corbett but Herold is arrested. Back to the trial chambers, Mary Sturatt is denied normal procedural hearing but military trial. Her son, John Surratt, is still at large with the government in hot pursuit, as he is believed to be part of orchestrators. The chief prosecutor is Joseph Holt while lawyer Reverdy Johnson represents Sturrratt’s. This trial is quite intriguing because Johnson is a senator from Maryland and a southerner. As the case progresses, Johnson admits to Sturratt that he cannot continue representing her since he is a southerner and the preceding judges and prosecutor are all from the north. As a result, Frederick Aiken is asked to represent Surratt since he is a northerner and Johnson believes that he is a fair lawyer. Aiken looks for clue tirelessly where he finds a ticket with the initials LJW in the boarding house. He tries to incriminate Weichmann to appear as guilt and his effort bear no fruits. At some point, Aiken feels obligated to giving up on Mary’s case as he feels that the accused is guilty. This is where Sturratt spills the beans to him that they had planned to kidnap Lincoln and not murdering him. Booth had interfered with the plot when he told them that the president was elsewhere when they had planned to highjack his carriage. Booth fled the town for two weeks and re-emerged the eve of the assassination. A witness is presented to the trial chambers and he testifies against Sturratt where Aiken claims he was bribed. The tribulations of the lawyer and his client continue because Aiken is revoked his citizenship and he cannot continue representing Sturratt.
Three months later, on 6th July 1865 Sturatt is found guilty of all the accused charges and is sentenced to execution by hanging. A day later, Aiken emerges trying to defend Sturratt to be tried under the civilian court but the president denies the injunction. As a result, Mary Sturratt becomes the first American woman to be executed and his son John Surratt captured and jailed. The epitome of this film is when the case continues after the execution of Sturratt in the Supreme Court. The jury comprises of equal northerners and southerners who agree that the case should have been a civilian jury and not the military tribunal. For John Sturratt, they fail to pass a verdict, he is set free, and Aiken leaves law and becomes the editor of The Washington Post.
The conspirator showcases a number of events that reflects what is actually happening in today’s society. Firstly, the violation of the constitution is sometime witnessed during trials of high profile criminals such as terrorists. They are sometimes forced to confess under duress where they are kept under horrible welfare conditions whereas the constitutions grant rights to any suspect. The film unearths violation of the constitution that granted people a civilian hearing with the peers as members of the jury. Secondly, betrayal and loyalty are two themes addressed in this movie interchangeably. John Booth betrays their friends who had planned to kidnap the president but he goes ahead and assassinates the president. Senator Johnson and lawyer Aiken who show their allegiance to the accused in spite of the public outcry portray loyalty. The mother and son love is clearly defined in the movie because Mary Sturrat was to be granted mercy if his son surrendered to the government, but Mary advised him on the contrary. Another significant theme is the issue of northerners and southerners being the protagonist and antagonists. This resembles a number of issues in the modern world such as racism and class segregation.
Redford and Solomon refrains from the clichés of making the starring person a heroic character. Mary Sturratt is found guilty and executed as documented in the historical books. This differentiates The Conspirator from other cinematography films, which ensure that the main character triumphs all the predicaments. Movie critics stated that this film unearths to the public that when one person’s rights are violated, the entire nation should worry because they are also touched. However, the film creates a pinning suspense because it does not showcase Sturratt as guilty or innocent. The main question is whether she was involved in plotting the kidnap and not the assassination as she purports or she was a conspirator. The viewer is left to fathom the answer and engage in more research to get an answer. Therefore, The Conspirator is an historical film that is fundamental to anybody who wishes to understand American history.