THE CONSPIRATOR (2010)
Directed by Robert Redford
Written by James D. Solomon and Gregory Bernstein
Starring Robin Wright, James McAvoy and Tom Wilkinson
We all know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a theatre by John Wilkes Booth but the trial of the conspirators is a lesser known tale. After the death of the president, 7 men and 1 woman were captured on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, whilst John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) himself was shot dead by a Union soldier. The single female in the line up of accused was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), boarding house owner and mother to John Surratt (Johnny Simmons), Wilkes Booth’s right hand man and currently on the run. When it came to light that a few of the men accused were lodging at Ms Surratt’s home and meetings often took place, Mary was labelled as a conspirator and the entire military tribunal found it their duty to condemn her despite having no evidence to prove her guilt. In steps Fred Aiken (James McAvoy), a Union war hero who had fought against the Confederate army in the Civil War two years previous, who’d returned to his occupation of attorney. Aiding Senator Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), he is ordered to take over the defense case of Ms Surratt due to the Senator’s southern roots, which might hinder the case. Initially reluctant and having his own prejudices against her, Aiken defends his client in the best way he can and starts to uncover that she may not been involved at all. His dedication and passion for justice, however unpopular, gives hope to Ms Surratt but it begins to destroy his life. Will he give up his life in society and respect of his peers to help save a woman who’s doomed to the gallows?
This is a strong drama that had me gripped from start to finish. Not knowing much about the assassination other than who’d actually shot the president, I was gladly enlightened by the film and it’s story as it served both as emotional entertainment and a history lesson. The costumes, props and sets used in the film were very authentic as to how I would imagine it would have been in 1865. Dark colours flood the film with light sparingly used, which reflects how this sorry affair was full of darkness, hope nowhere to be seen.
With an all-star cast from both Britain and the US, headed up by Robert Redford as the director, this film was destined to be a hit. James McAvoy gives a strong performance as the reluctant lawyer who must defend the woman who the whole nation, he himself included, reckons helped conspire the assassination of their beloved President Abraham Lincoln. Over the course of the film, Aiken investigates accounts from different witnesses and during the process, he believes that Ms Surratt is guilty of nothing more than being a mother to John Surratt, who is the real man wanted for the crime. Unfortunately, his strong views aren’t taken lightly by his peers and he’s soon outcast and frowned upon by defending Ms Surratt, when in fact, he’s the only one in the court room passionately seeking the truth, rather than revenge. Robin Wright is perfect as the boarding house owner, who portrays that of a woman who loves nothing more than her family and would keep her son safe at any cost. The film shows how anger and revenge can cloud judgement and the whole venom of these proceedings is provided by Kevin Kline’s ruthless character, Edwin Stanton. The supporting cast do a brilliant job and I cannot fault a single actor in this remarkable historical drama. What makes you appreciate the rights to a fair trial is when you realise the events in this story are true. Sometimes you can be so swept up in the film that you forget. An emotional rollercoaster of a film that’s well worth seeing.