Copperhead is Truly the Civil War Film for Today
- Friday, June 28, 2013
Release Date: June 28, 2013 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for an unsettling sequence)
Run Time: 120 minutes
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
Cast: Peter Fonda, Lucy Boynton, Casey Thomas Brown, Billy Campbell, Angus Macfadyn
You might think a Civil War film following so closely on the coattails of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln would be one to pass up, but you'd be wrong. Granted, Lincoln was a masterful peek backwards in history to examine the Civil War from the perspective of our nation's leader. But while Lincoln held audiences in pseudo-suspense as the President campaigned for votes to pass the 13th amendment, Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead examines a hitherto silenced and passed-over portion of American history.
Maxwell knows a thing or two about Civil War films; you may have seen his earlier work in epics Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. Mercifully, Copperhead isn't four hours long, but it nonetheless tells a desperately important story, specifically for politically active Christians.
Copperhead takes place in a small corner of New York State in 1862, when the Civil War far to the south was starting to creep into the lives of northerners in a more tangible way. We meet two very different families. First we have grumpy Jee Hagadorn (Angus McFadyn, We Bought a Zoo), a loyal abolitionist sympathizer who supports the Republican efforts to end slavery and preserve the union. His devoted daughter Esther (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) shares his sentiments, even requesting that her beau cease to go by his nickname "Jeff" so that she won't have to be reminded of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis.
Jee's foil is Abner Beech (Billy Campbell, Gods and Generals), a much more reserved Democrat who staunchly opposes the War on constitutional and humanitarian grounds. He is disgusted at the enormous death toll that the War has brought about, and wants to keep his own sons from such a grisly death. "My family means more to me," Abner explains, "than any Union."
Abner Beech is a "Copperhead," a northern dissenter mistrusted by his abolitionist peers. Similar to the way many southerners refused to own or mistreat slaves, and disagreed with the South’s secession, many northerners like Abner were fiercely against the War. Minority factions are rarely featured or even mentioned in retellings of great historical events, and Copperhead pulls back the curtain to zero in on such dissenters.
The drastically different religious and political worldviews of the Hagadorns and the Beeches collide when young Jeff Beech (Casey Thomas Brown), Abner’s son, begins to seriously court Esther Hagadorn. Both young people struggle to reconcile their affection for each other with their loyalty to their respective family's convictions. As the film progresses, and tensions in the community rise between war-supporters and Copperheads, it becomes increasingly clear that dehumanizing those with whom we disagree can have deadly consequences.
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