by STEVEN D. GREYDANUS, Register Film Critic
Friday, Aug 19, 2011 3:19 PM Comment
The Conspirator (2010) PICK
Jane Eyre (2011) PICK
Priest (2011) PASS
In 1865, a Catholic widow named Mary Surratt became the first woman to be executed in the United States of America. Her son John was one of John Wilkes Booth’s fellow conspirators — but in which conspiracy, and at what time? What did Mary Surratt know, and when did she know it? Was justice served or not?
These are the questions behind The Conspirator, now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate. The first film from the American Film Company (“Witness History”), The Conspirator is an engrossing exploration of a little-known but fascinating and sobering chapter in American history — and a rare historical drama that credibly captures a sense of another era.
Shrewdly, the film tells its story through the eyes of Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy of X-Men: First Class), a Union officer who finds himself in the unwanted position of defending Mrs. Surratt (Robin Wright). Unfamiliar with the story’s vagaries, I found the climactic twists and turns gripping and devastating. The Conspirator brings history compellingly and even brilliantly to life.
Notable bonus features include an eye-opening feature-length documentary about the conspiracy and Surratt’s role in it, a commentary by director Robert Redford, a making-of featurette featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and a number of short extras on the history, production design, costumes and more.
Of special note is a brief look at “Mary Surratt’s Catholicism,” which puts Mrs. Surratt’s childhood conversion to the Catholic faith in the historical context of the anti-Catholicism of the day and emphasizes how widespread fears of Catholic subversion helped lead to her execution.
Also new to home video, Cary Fukunaga’s retelling of Jane Eyre has been hailed as one of the better adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel. Not having read the novel, nor seen any of the prior adaptations, I can only say I found it compelling and worthwhile — well acted by Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and memorable in its exploration of the main characters’ moral choices, particularly regarding marriage.
Finally, superhero priests vs. vampires? How bad could it be? A lot worse than you might think: Priest, a perverse, graphically violent action-fantasy from the director and star of Legion, is one of the most repugnantly sacrilegious films I’ve ever seen. Set in an alternate reality with a despotic, Orwellian “Church” akin to Pullman’s “Magisterium,” it’s full of Catholic language and iconography — but Christ himself, and the grace of the Gospel, has been erased from this world. Avoid at all costs.
CONTENT ADVISORY: The Conspirator: Violent content, including a brief battlefield scene, at least two shooting deaths, a violent stabbing, and a group hanging; references to drunkenness and a few other mature references. Jane Eyre: Off-screen violence; child abuse; a painting of a nude. Both teens and up.