The Conspirator covers the trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman charged with conspiring in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. The film is told from the point of view of her lawyer, Frederick Aiken, who is initially uncomfortable with the idea of defending a person he believes is responsible for the death of the president. The movie explores his changing attitude towards Surratt and the ultimate execution of Surratt and the other conspirators.
This film uses a social, bottom-up approach that focuses on the impact of lesser-known people, rather than national leaders. It is also one of the few Civil War films that has a female character at the core of its narrative.
The film received differing reactions from historians and critics. While historians found it to be a compelling and accurate representation of history, critics found it to be slow and oddly structured. It also did not gain favor with general audiences, perhaps because some viewers found the true story of Mary Surratt to be uncomfortable to watch.
Thomas Goodrich, The Darkest Dawn: Lincoln, Booth, and the Great American Tragedy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006).
Bill O’Reilly, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever (New York: St Martins Press, 2016).
Elizabeth Trindal, Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy (Gretna: Pelican Publishing, 1996).
Kate Larson, The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln (New York: Basic Books Publishing, 2011).
Kate Larson, “The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Lincoln,” Historically Speaking 9, no. 7 (September/October 2008): 9-11.
Thomas Turner, “What Type of Trial? A Civil versus a Military for the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators,” Papers of the Abraham Lincoln Association vol. 4 (1982): 29-51.
Roger Ebert, “The Conspirator Film Review,” Roger Ebert, April 14, 2011.
A.O. Scott, “History’s Loose Ends, and a Tightening Noose,” New York Times, April 14, 2011.
Alex Hoyt, “‘The Conspirator’: Heavy on History, Light on Heart,” The Atlantic, April 15, 2011.
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