A Hollywood vision of the most transformative incident in the life of Ted Kennedy -- youngest son of the Kennedy Clan, liberal Democrat and presidential aspirant -- is offered in the soon-to-be released movie: Chappaquiddick.

Directed by John Curran and based on the work of scriptwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, Chappaquiddick features Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy, Bruce Dern as Joe Kennedy, and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. The movie dramatizes the events in 1969 that took place on the peninsula on Martha’s Vineyard that witnessed the drowning death of young Kopechne.

The film manages to examine various strands in the life of Ted Kennedy that led him to the night during which he drove his car off a bridge on the resort island, leaving Kopechne behind to die. Strands in Kennedy’s life such as the legacy of his murdered brothers, family ties and legacy, and his political aspirations pull him from one choice to another. Each time, when Kennedy appears to verge on making the right choice, he veers astray in the movie. Teddy appears to know what is the right thing to do, but apparently refuses to do it.

Bruce Dern plays Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch who was leveled by a stroke and reduced to whispering into his son’s ear, presumably with ill effect. Clarke as Teddy and Dern as Joe Kennedy are matched by Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan as major characters in the bio-pic. Helms plays Joe Gargan, a Kennedy cousin, whose life is ruined by the tragic events of a weekend.

Kate Mara, playing Mary Jo Kopechne, was central to the actual events but a minor character in the film. However, Mara manages to infuse the film with tragedy with a scene that imagines the real young woman’s final moments trapped in a submerged car.

The telling of the story covers a single week and leads to Kennedy’s famous televised statement about the tragedy that was broadcast to all the major television networks of the time. There is enough grey area in the film as to the relationship between the real Kennedy and Kopechne and how the events unfolded, even while the filmmaker’s’ viewpoint becomes obvious. “Tragedy has a way of defining people,” is heard on the trailer for Chappaquiddick. It is how Ted Kennedy dealt with his role in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne that he define himself thereafter.

Chappaquiddick -- the movie that is bill as the "untold, true story" -- is due to be released in April 2018.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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