Saturday 23 June 2018

Chappaquiddick film - how Ted Kennedy survived politically after female passenger died when he drove off a bridge

Kennedy drove off a bridge in the summer of 1969 on the small island of Chappaquiddick, resulting in the death of passenger Mary Jo Kopechne

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick
Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick

Kyle Ewald

Since their first step into the political limelight, The Kennedys, an Irish American dynasty, have manage to hold the fascination of an entire nation.

A six part CNN miniseries on the family was released earlier this year, followed by Netflix’s Bobby Kennedy for President that honours the 50th anniversary of RFK’s 1968 presidential run. Also on its way to big screens is a more tragic tale of the Kennedy family: the real life tale of Senator Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy’s darkest hour, told for the first time cinematically in John Curran’s docudrama Chappaquiddick.

The movie recounts the summer of 1969 on the small island of Chappaquiddick off of Martha’s Vineyard. Senator Kennedy accidently drove his car off a bridge where it flipped upside down into a pond, resulting in the death of his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Mary Jo was previously speechwriter and secretary for Ted’s brother, the late Robert F. Kennedy. The young woman attended a party celebrating RFK’s former staffers and was offered a lift back to her hotel by Ted. After his Oldsmobile was flung into the water after flying off the barrier-less bridge, Ted was able to escape, but Mary Jo was still stuck in the vehicle at the bottom of the pond.

Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne with Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick
Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne with Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick

While Ted insists he made multiple attempts to rescue Mary Jo, he eventually left the scene of the accident and did not report it to authorities for 10 hours. Although Ted was able to keep his senate seat for 40 years following the incident, his White House ambitions fell flat when he did not run in 1972 or 1976, and failed to secure 1980 bid for nomination.

The film delves into the aftermath of the incident, depicting all the power and theatrics used by one of America’s most powerful and influential families to save one of their own from social and political suicide.

Chappaquiddick does not glamorise the tragic death of young Kopechne, nor does it shy away from placing the blame on Ted’s shoulders. While the film includes loads of historical detail, it also infuses dramatic licence, strongly insinuating that it was the strategic scheming of the Kennedy dynasty that carried Ted away from public denunciation.

The film has received mixed reviews, with some critics saying the plot has all the research and material, but lacks passion and vitality. Others, including Variety, commend the movie on this lack of passion, stating that “it’s too tough and smart to milk the situation by turning Edward Kennedy into a ‘tragic figure’.”

The conflicted senator is played by Australian actor Jason Clarke, along with Kate Mara as Kopechne; Ed Helms as Ted Kennedy’s cousin, friend, and lawyer Joe Gargan, and Jim Gaffigan as the Massachusetts Attorney General Paul Markham.

While the film was screened at multiple film festivals around the world, it was officially released in America on April 6, but has yet to have a scheduled release date in Ireland and the UK.

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick
Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick

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