As the lights dimmed in the Playhouse last night, the air was thick with anticipation. The dull roar that had filled the theatre seemed to hush with a collective intake of breath as the audience waited for the film to roll. The crowd of invited guests would be among the first to see Copperhead the latest feature film from director Ron Maxwell (Gods and Generals, Gettysburg ). The film was shot last summer on location at Kings Landing Historical Settlement about 20 minutes west of Fredericton.
From the opening strains of Laurent Eyquem’s stirring score we were transported to upstate New York in 1862 at the height of the Civil War. With its lush rolling farmland and ribbon of river, Kings Landing shimmered like a painting from the Hudson RiverSchool of painters.
While the film will almost certainly gain a lot of attention from Civil War buffs, Copperhead is a Civil War movie for people who don’t think they like Civil War movies. I’m included in that. I don’t typically gravitate to epic battle movies but with Copperhead, based on the 1893 novel by Harold Frederic, Ron Maxwell has chosen to show us the war at home. As he explained in a post-screening discussion, when the troops march out of town in most war movies the camera follows. Copperhead is notable for showing the impact of the war on those left behind without showing a single battle scene. It’s also compelling because it comes to the much trod territory of the American Civil War from a perspective that I don’t think we’ve ever seen on film before.
Soft-spoken dairy farmer Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) despises slavery but he also despises sending boys into battle to fight what he believes to be an unconstitutional war hundreds of miles away. Local anti-slavery zealot Jee Hagadorn – played with wild-eyed brilliance by Angus MacFadyen – stirs up the town against him and his family with tragic results.
Because history has generally determined that American Civil War while terrible and costly was ultimately a good and necessary thing for abolishing slavery and maintaining the union, I never really considered that there were good and noble men who opposed it. While I headed into the theatre looking forward to seeing familiar faces and places (“hey! I learned to milk a cow in that barn!”) I mostly wanted I wanted to see a good film. And I did.
So how can you see it? Copperhead opens in limited release in American markets at the end of the month with wider release coming in late July. Because it’s not a major studio production, the film-makers are really banking on grassroots support of the film to convince theatres to bring it to audiences. Currently their website offers a “DemandCopperhead” feature for American audiences but they are working to include an option for Canadian audiences as well so stay tuned!
Together with the stately homes along Waterloo Row and the soaring spire of the Cathedral, Kings Landing is one of my earliest, fondest memories of the part of the province I would eventually call home. The settlement opens for the season this weekend and I’ll be heading to spend a day there for an upcoming Frederictontourism post.