Movie Review: The Conspirator (2011)

The Conspirator (2011)

4 out of 5 stars

At one point in my life I probably knew that the first woman executed in the United States was a member of the ring of conspirators who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.  I’ve slept since then and forgotten all I might have known beyond remembering that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln and that the term ‘Your name is Mudd’ has it’s origins from that event.

I did not know, however, that Mary Surrat was tried in a military court martial, where the presumption of guilt (not innocence) presides and the rules of evidence are less stringent than a civilian court of law.

The Civil War (and it’s aftermath) have never held my historical attention like 20th century wars seem to (especially World War II).  Even living in northeastern Kansas, near the legacy of John Brown and the Lawrence Massacre by Quantrill, I tend to turn a blind eye to that time period.

But I can see parallels to our own times, one hundred and fifty years later, in the aftermath of 9/11 and our treatment of the accused (presumption of innocence, imprisonment with benefit of habeas corpus and trial by a jury of your peers).  The Patriot Act is not so far removed from what Lincoln signed into law in 1863 or what Woodrow Wilson signed during World War I.  Sadly, we did this to ourselves (the Civil War and afterwards).

This film kept my interest as well as any court room drama does, regardless of what century you place it in.  Frederick Aiken’s closing statement in Mary Surrat’s defense enthralled me.

The BluRay also included a 67 minute documentary (as well as other extras) that provided further historical background about the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln.