The Conspirator (2011)

Plot: In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State.

The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt (ROBIN WRIGHT), 42, owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (TOBY KEBBELL), 26, 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).  As the nation turns against her, Surratt is forced to rely on Aiken to uncover the truth and save her life.

Director: Robert Redford

Writing Credits: James D. Salomon

Cast: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Danny Houston, James Badge Dale, Colm Meaney, Alexis Bledel, Johnny Simmons, Toby Kebbell, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Root & Norman Reedus

Music by: Mark Isham

Genre: Historical drama

Budget: 25.000.000

Filming Dates: 12 October – December 2009

Filming Locations: Georgia, USA

Release Date: 15 April 2011 (USA)

Box Office: $11,538,204 (USA) | Widest Release: 849 theaters

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violent content

Robin Wright as Mary Surratt

The film tells the real story of Mary Surratt, the only female conspirator charged in the Abraham Lincoln assassination and the first woman to be executed by the US federal government.

Robin Wright plays the strong, enigmatic Mary Surratt, whose actual involvement in the conspiracy has long been debated, mainly because she stoically maintained her innocence while saying nothing that might aid her defense. Her strong Catholic faith, ability to withstand great suffering and steadfast resoluteness makes her seem martyr-like.

Wright says, “Mary Surratt is a mother, a widow, a Catholic, a Confederate, who is, I think, wrongly accused of being an accomplice in some way.” Her actions, says Wright, represent the ultimate sacrifice. “She’s a victim by her own choice. It’s the choices that you make as a mother that transcend all questions of guilt or innocence.”

Robin Wright was initially unavailable to make the film due to personal commitments. Robert Redford delayed the production because he really wanted her for the female lead.

Robin Wright and James McAvoy

Behind the conspiracies and the political machinations, according to writer Solomon, beats the emotional heart of the film: the story of a mother and a son. “Here is a mother in a desperate situation essentially abandoned by her son. Another young man steps in and becomes a surrogate son to this mother.  He stays and fights to the very end while her own son doesn’t come to defend or rescue her.”

That surrogate son is Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a young, decorated Union war hero just beginning his career as an attorney. He reluctantly represents Mary and comes to passionately fight for her within a system bent on executing Mary Surratt, and her co-defendants.

“In The Conspirator,” Redford says, “events trigger an emotional struggle in both Mary and Aiken that challenge their conceptions of duty, honor and loyalty.  How they respond to those challenges creates this compelling story.”

Over the course of the trial, Aiken and Surratt gain respect and develop care and concern for one another. “In the beginning”, says Wright, “he’s a Unionist, she’s a Confederate and there’s an innate hatred they both have for the other’s beliefs. When they get past that, they find humanity in one another.”

Aiken is enraged by the privations and suffering she is made to endure in the squalid conditions of the Arsenal Prison. At the same time, he finds himself impotent in court. Against a system designed to secure a conviction, Aiken can do nothing to alter her fate.

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