TORONTO (Reuters) - In his new film “The Conspirator,” director Robert Redford digs into a little-known angle of one of the best-known moments in American history: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Instead of dealing with the shooting in the Ford’s Theater in Washington, already a movie subject, Redford takes aim at a back story to the 1865 assassination of the U.S. president — a complex plot that resulted in seven men and one woman being arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state.
Redford’s independent film centers around that woman, Mary Surratt, played by Robin Wright, and the defense mounted by young lawyer Frederick Aiken, played by James McAvoy.
Surratt owned a boarding house where assassin John Wilkes Booth and others planned the multiple attacks. She was the first woman executed by the U.S. government.
It “is a story that very few, if any, know,” Redford, whose film awards include an Oscar for directing “Ordinary People,” told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s gala screening of “The Conspirator” at the Toronto International Film Festival.
He said he was drawn to the “story that sits inside of a story that everybody knows — the Lincoln assassination.”
The nation wanted justice, and while the young lawyer Aiken realizes his client may be innocent, he understands that she is being used as bait to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt — her own son, John.
Lincoln’s assassination, as the U.S. Civil War was drawing to an end, threw the nation into disarray. Redford said present day America is not much different, in that it is a nation that is deeply divided on its opinions of its president, and of the president that went before.
Speaking on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, he added: “History is a series of loops. We keep repeating ourselves. Now we’re living in a condition of confusion and anxiety and fear and that was the same thing 150 years ago.”
The period drama’s cast also includes Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, and Alexis Bledel. The film arrived at the Toronto festival without a distributor.
Reporting by Ka Yan Ng; editing by Mohammad Zargham