The moment everything changed for Ted


TELLING Dad: Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) puts his cards on the table with his father, Joseph Kennedy (Bruce Dern). Photograph courtesy

IT TAKES A great deal of wisdom to make a film as beautiful as Chappaquiddick. It has to do with an understanding of the fact that the story was told by history itself in 1969. It also has to do with an understanding of the texture of the era in America of 1969. But above all, the unequivocal beauty of this work is in its understatedness. This film is not attempting to open new cans of worms and to reflect sensationally on a bit of gossip that the press vultures of the time missed. While there are a couple of red herrings in flash backs, the work remains faithful to the original circumstances. And the unabashed subtlety in the use of photography renders this a mature work and one of greatness.

July 20 1969 is emblazoned in the memory of many as the day on which man landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong, to be precise. But it was also a day of enormous catastrophe in the life of the youngest Kennedy son – Ted (Jason Clarke). Before we get there, let’s take a step back. The youngest of four boys, prominently fingered for greatness, by 1969, Ted Kennedy had lost his three elder brothers: Joe in World War 2; Jack (aka JFK), who had reached the Presidency, to an assassin in 1963, and Robert, also a Senator in the US government, also to an assassin, in 1968.

Ted was earmarked by the world as the family’s least promising. He was a Senator and he was mixing in the right circles. But he seemed stumped by the sense of loss that overshadowed him. And then the unimaginable happened. A car accident in the island of Chappaquiddick. Ted was driving. The passenger was political campaign specialist, a bright eyed and pretty American girl called Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). The outcome: Kopechne drowns in the car. Kennedy emerges unharmed and unable to explain why he abandoned the car at the scene. He was at the time a married man with young children.

It was a smear that was to stain his career implacably and it represented a crisis for the extended Kennedy family and a first prize opportunity for the voracious press to get their teeth into suppositions.

How does the carrying of such a horror enable Ted to tell his father, Joseph Kennedy (Bruce Dern), who is incapacitated after a severe stroke? The work is finely constructed around these difficult human moments carrying the issue of expectation and imposed parental guilt, of what concussion and trauma do to the memory and the soul, and of the complexity of making peace with loss. Particularly if you’re in the public eye.

Working with the basic facts of the story, it is a well-written, excellently cast piece of filmography which allows you into a tragic moment of humanity in the life of a famous family who history painted as possibly cursed. The general hue of the work is like a watercolour in its subtle murkiness and this is a quality that runs through the whole film. Made with sensitivity and balance, from the very first moments, even though the plot is well established, the work will hold you tightly focused.

  • Chappaquiddick is directed by John Curran and features a cast headed by A J Accardi, Andria Blackman, Diana Boudreau, Clancy Brown, George Capaccio, Brian Currie, Noah Joseph Carpenter, Joe Chase, Jason Clarke, Theresa Curran, David De Beck, Bruce Dern, Damien Di Paola, Charlotte Anne Dore, Walter Driscoll, Michael Fennimore, John Fiore, Jim Gaffigan, Gillian Mariner Gordon, Jack Harte, Ed Helms, Katie Henoch, Tamara Hickey, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Bill Humphreys, Tim Jackson, Bob Jaffe, Thomas Kee, Matthew Lawler, Kate Mara, Sarah Elizabeth Mitchell, Bill Mootos, Taylor Nichols, Nancy O’Brien, Ed Peed, Beth Petrou, Alexander Platt, Barry Press, Michele Proude, Lexie Roth, Angela Hope Smith, Gary Tanguay, Olivia Thirlby, Dustin Tucker, Vince Tycer, Tony Viveiros, Alison Wachtler, Victor Warren, Donald Watson and Joseph Zamparelli. It is written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. Produced by Mark Ciardi, Chris Cowles, Chris Fenton and Campbell G. McInnes, it features creative input by Garth Stevenson (music), Maryse Alberti (cinematography), Keith Fraase (editing), Marisol Roncali and Mary Vernieu (casting) and John P Goldsmith (production design).
  • It released in South Africa under Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau on: May 31 2018.

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