October 22, 2014 00:00 UTC

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A New Film Sheds Light on Lincoln Assassination

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A New Film Sheds Light on Lincoln Assassination
A New Film Sheds Light on Lincoln Assassination
Julie Taboh

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April 14, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln is shot while watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.

He dies a short while later, and the U.S. is thrown into chaos.

The assassin was John Wilkes Booth, an American actor. Most Americans believe Booth acted alone. But actually, there were eight others in a conspiracy, targeting not only the president, but the vice president and secretary of state.

Now, a new film called "The Conspirator," directed by Robert Redford, focuses on the military trial of Mary Surratt, the mother of John Surratt, an alleged conspirator who escaped.

"I am a Southerner and a devoted mother. But I am no assassin."

She's indicted because she owns a boarding house where the conspirators met.

Judge-  "A military trial of civilians is an atrocity."

Aiken- "No, what she did is an atrocity.”

Frederick Aiken is an attorney who fought in the Union Army against the South. At first, he's reluctant to defend Surratt. She is, after all, a Southerner. But he changes his mind when he realizes she might not get a fair trial.

Aiken thinks one way to help her is to find her son.

Aiken- "Mary, you have to tell us where your son is".

Surratt-  "Us?  I have to tell us?...Whose side are you on?"

Aiken- "I’m trying to defend you."

Surratt-  "By suggesting I trade my son for myself?"

The film tells the story of the relationship between Surratt and her attorney. But there is another story-- that of a devoted mother, willing to do anything to save her son.

The film premiered recently at the same theater where President Lincoln was killed.

Fans showed up to catch a glimpse of the stars and the dignitaries who attended.

Director, Robert Redford, explained what drew him to the story.

"In this case, everyone knew about the situation with Lincoln - everybody knew about that - but I found out that very few people, if anybody, knew about an event connected to it, and I wanted to tell that story."

James McAvoy plays attorney, Frederick Aiken.

"My character, who initially would have happily seen her hang unlawfully, comes around to loving his country even more, so much so that he understands that he has to love the law and he has to love the Constitution if he’s going to love his country and therefore he can’t let her hang."

Robin Wright plays Mary Surratt.

"It’s about humanity.  It's not so much about, you know, historical evidence.  It’s a real piece about human behavior."

Fred Borch was a consultant on the film.

"What I think the movie is trying to do is to show you that guilt or innocence aside, she didn’t get a fair trial, and neither did the others, because the government was so afraid that if they didn’t stomp on this conspiracy, that there might be more attacks by the Confederates coming."

Borch says the story is based on the truth.  “The movie is mostly about a criminal trial and there was a court reporter who took down almost every word that was said in court.”

Redford hopes the film will make people think of President Lincoln’s assassination in a different light.

"I’ve never deluded myself into thinking that films change anybody’s opinion, or have an impact that’s going to change policy or anything like that, but I would think that being aware of what happened and seeing how that process has repeated itself, might strike a chord. I would hope so."

“There is no limit to how far the prosecution is willing to go.”

“Stand down, counselor.”

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