Film Type: History, Drama
About the film:
The Conspirator is a historical-drama film about Mary Surrat, the only woman who was charged as co-conspirator in the assassination of the late US President Abraham Lincoln. The film was directed by Robert Redford and it had already made its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2010. The film is set for release in the US on April 15 2011.
The movie The Conspirator, which stars Robin Wright and James McAvoy, is a historical drama set in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, when seven men and one woman (played by Wright) are charged with conspiring to murder the president. The film was financed with independent money because it’s virtually impossible to persuade a major studio to back a real-life historical drama today, at least unless you jump through a thousand hoops — like keeping the budget under $20 million or providing your own financing and then loading the film up with a couple of big stars (working for peanuts, of course).
But for me, the most fascinating aspect of Redford’s new film, which I saw recently, isn’t its uphill struggle to find a distributor. It is the historical resonance of the story it tells, which makes it a perfect film to have its Toronto debut on Sept. 11. After Lincoln was shot and killed, America was traumatized, much as it was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And as the film makes clear, the War Department, run by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (played in the film by Kevin Kline), is determined to quench the country’s thirst for vengeance, even if that means bending the law and sending a seemingly innocent woman to the gallows. It’s not a pretty picture, certainly no prettier a picture than the one showing terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay prisons, some held under the flimsiest of pretexts, many without access to proper legal protections.
When Sharkey asked Redford about the historical parallels to today, he backpedaled, saying it was “up to the audience” to decide how to interpret the story. But I think he’s being way too cautious. What makes the film stick in your mind isn’t so much its depiction of Civil War-era strife as its unsettling relationship to many of the events in modern-day America, which has struggled to retain its ideals while battling the scourge of terrorism. If anyone is going to want to buy this film and put it into multiplexes, it won’t just be because they’re impressed by Wright’s performance as Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed by the United States government. It will be because they see a film whose story is loaded with reminders that if we cannot remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it.
Robin Wright as Mary Surratt: the only woman among the group charged with killing the president.
James McAvoy as Fredrick Aiken: an idealistic young war hero who reluctantly defends Surratt and in the process comes to believe in her innocence.
Justin Long as Nicholas Baker: Aiken's best friend, an injured Civil War veteran.
Evan Rachel Wood as Anna Surratt: Mary Surratt's daughter
Johnny Simmons as John Surratt: Mary Surratt's son
Toby Kebbell as John Wilkes Booth
Tom Wilkinson as Reverdy Johnson: the former attorney general who as U.S. Senator is the mentor to Aiken
Norman Reedus as Lewis Payne
Alexis Bledel as Sarah Weston: Aiken's wife
Kevin Kline as Edwin Stanton: Lincoln’s Secretary of War
Danny Huston as Joseph Holt: the prosecuting attorney
Stephen Root as John Lloyd, a principal witness for the prosecution
Jonathan Groff as Louis Weichmann
Brent F.G. Feasel as Lord Dundreary
Kirk Sparks as Edmund Spangler
Colm Meaney as David Hunter
Director: Robert Redford
Writers: James D. Solomon
In the wake of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, seven men and one woman were arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt played by Robin Wright, 42, owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt: her own son, John (Johnny Simmons).
...at Toronto International Film Festival (September 11, 2010)
News & Updates:
Principal photography began in October 2009, in Savannah, Georgia and wrapped in December 2009.
The film is the first production of The American Film Company.
The Maryland town was called Surrattsville before Lincoln's assassination and was changed to Robeysville afterward. The town is now known as Clinton, Maryland which was renamed in 1879. The Surratts house remains as a historic museum.