Robert Redford had done a great social service in shedding some fresh light on a forgotten darkened corner of American history in directing The Conspirator.
The movie centers around the trial for treason/murder of civilians and or spies in times of war in a military tribunal.
The movie is a bit too thoughtful for the average dumbed down American but then again I could be wrong. The young these days of course get their history from the cinema, and not from any boring dumbed down classroom and for that I am grateful that Mr. Redford has kept an ember of our history alive in this historic period piece to all that seek it.
This is perhaps both a movie review of sorts and a social commentary on the state of America then and now.
Lincoln was the bastard that suspended Habeas Corpus in time of war, same as what Obama did a week or two ago regarding the so-called PR War on Terror. Of course John Wilkes Booth, an actor, killed Lincoln, made him a martyr, made him a saint, and a demi-god as only republics can make gods by giving him a Zeus like temple for worship and remembrance on the Mall in Washington D.C..
Redford, with this script, touches very briefly on the fact that one of the main conspirators in the plot to kill Lincoln, John Surratt, was given sanctuary by the RC church and whisked off to Europe to serve in the Pope's personal bodyguard in the Vatican.
The Conspirator reveals a less than glorious defense of the secular plot to assassinate Lincoln by a nest of Confederate spies at Mrs. Mary Surratt's boarding house in Washington D.C..
If it was a new line of defense to tell the story, okay. But as a story line to say that Mary Surratt did not deserve to be the first woman officially hanged in the United States, not okay. And of course there were those witch hangings in Salem Massachusetts around 1690 before there was a United States as an aside.
The line is that John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt, as a Confederate courier/spy had only plotted with John Wilkes Booth to kidnap Lincoln and not kill him is weak at best. That Booth probably did at the last minute conceive of the assassination as revenge for the surrender of General Lee to General Grant is the probable truth and he, Booth quickly gathered his former kidnap conspirators to join him in this last minute enterprise.
The story does go against possible perjured testimony that saw John Surratt outside Ford's Theater on the night of the assassination. That Surratt was out of town, and already in Montreal on his way to Rome? That his mother, playing the Catholic martyr, did not push for her son to return. That she in fact was a scapegoat in a much larger unseen international political plot involving the U.S.A., the C.S.A and the Vatican.
Kevin Kline gives a very powerful performance as micro-manager Secretary of War Stanton who held the government together at a critical moment of potential national crisis. That Stanton orchestrated the trial of civilians in a military court is the underlying message of Redford's film. That we must give heavy thought to the consequences of signing away Habeas Corpus as two former corporate lawyers Lincoln and Obama did. To not surrender our rights so lightly or carelessly.
That Mary Surratt was taken from her house and imprisoned and tried on the direct orders of Stanton, I do not disagree with. That a kangeroo like military court was convened to satisfy the blood lust of a nation confused by a confusing ending to a confusing corporate war between the northern industrialists and bankers against the southern plantation owners and their European/Vatican bankers. That in reality if Stanton had not done what he did, a mob would probably have hung Marry Surratt from her own tree or the nearest city lamppost. Enough said.
As for the Vatican conspiracy, no doubt Pius IX was glad to see Lincoln dead. I don't see anything more than tea, sympathy and perhaps a little enabling gold from the Vatican to the South on any real plot to kill Lincoln.
My seeing the movie and subsequent research makes me think that perhaps some historian has already noted the timeline thing with a possible Jesuit worldwide spy network telling special friend and Catholic educated Jefferson Davis of Lincoln's intention to sign the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
That Jefferson's September 1862 Letter to Pius IX and Pius' unbelievably quick December 1862 reply to his dear friend and President of the Confederacy Davis was an attempt to offset Lincoln and his propaganda victory regarding the theoretical freeing of the slaves in the South by that executive proclamation.
I only recommend the movie if you are a heavy history buff.
Have a nice day.
John Surratt photo in his Vatican Uniform