Being the week of 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, it’s appropriate that it’s also the IndieFlix release date of the film The Killing of Mary Surratt. The only woman tried for involvement in the Lincoln assassination, Mary Surratt’s story is more interesting than her relative obscurity would suggest. This is shown by the fact that Robert Redford’s new film, The Conspirator, being released Friday, is also about Surratt.
Historical films tend to be done in one of two ways. They’re often either standard narrative, A-to-B-to-C accounts, or more expressionist, tone poem-style films that rely on mood and technique as much as, even more than, plot. While The Conspirator seems like it will be the former, The Killing of Mary Surratt is certainly the latter. Either style can result in a great film, but no matter how engrossing the standard narrative history may be, I often find the more abstract films are far more affecting.
Directed by Chris King, The Killing of Mary Surratt, is an unusual and incredibly artful short film. The narrative cuts between Surratt’s trial and her life before, the story often told in montage and voiceover. It’s a style that could have been pretentious, but never is. King’s approach feels organic to the story and characters, and between the scenes of Mary’s trial and her life, King shows the viewer a powerful feeling for who she is and how the atmosphere of the trial allows for little chance of justice. The acting is uniformally solid, especially Mary Beth Barber—incredibly compelling as the title character.
History buffs may be frustrated at the film’s pretty clear assumption of Mary’s innocence, but if historians can’t even decide on her guilt or innocence there’s no reason the film shouldn’t get to choose for itself. Whether or not the viewer is sympathetic to the real Mary Surratt is irrelevant. This film’s Mary, like the film itself, is thoughtful and powerful. What did you think of The Killing of Mary Surratt? Are you looking forward to seeing The Conspirator?