The Conspirator

The Conspirator is a 2010 American mystery historical drama film directed by Robert Redford and based on an original screenplay by James D. Solomon. It is the debut film of the American Film Company. The film tells the story of Mary Surratt, the only female conspirator charged in the Abraham Lincoln assassination and the first woman to be executed by the US federal government. It stars James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Jonathan Groff, Tom Wilkinson, Alexis Bledel, Kevin Kline, John Cullum, Toby Kebbell, and James Badge Dale.[3][4]

The Conspirator
The Conspirator Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Redford
Screenplay byJames D. Solomon
Story byJames D. Solomon
Gregory Bernstein
Produced byRobert Redford
Brian Falk
Bill Holderman
Greg Shapiro
Robert Stone
StarringJames McAvoy
Robin Wright
Kevin Kline
Evan Rachel Wood
Danny Huston
Justin Long
Colm Meaney
Tom Wilkinson
CinematographyNewton Thomas Sigel
Edited byCraig McKay
Music byMark Isham
Distributed byLionsgate
Roadside Attractions (North America)
Focus Features International (International)[1]
Release dates
  • September 11, 2010 (2010-09-11) (TIFF)
  • April 15, 2011 (2011-04-15)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[2]
Box office$15.5 million

The Conspirator premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2010[5] followed by a special premiere screening on March 29, 2011 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Another premiere screening was held on April 10, 2011 at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, the site of the assassination. The US theatrical release took place on April 15, 2011, the 146th anniversary of the death of Lincoln. The film was released in Canada on April 29, 2011 and was in the UK on July 1, 2011. Lionsgate Home Entertainment released the DVD and Blu-ray on August 16, 2011.[6][7]


On April 14, 1865, five days after the Civil War ends with the South's surrender to the North at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, lawyer and Union veteran Frederick Aiken, with his friends, William Thomas Hamilton and Nicholas Baker, and his wife, Sarah Weston, celebrate. Later that night, after John Wilkes Booth enters Ford’s Theater, Southerner Lewis Powell (referred to as Lewis Payne in the film) seriously wounds Secretary of State William Seward in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. German immigrant and carriage repair business owner George Atzerodt is assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, but becomes afraid, gets drunk, and runs away. Meanwhile, Booth sneaks into the President’s box and shoots his target, President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head as he watches the play, Our American Cousin. Booth stabs diplomat and military officer Henry Rathbone, who was a guest in Lincoln's box, and leaps onto the stage, shouting, "Sic Semper Tyrannis! The South is avenged!" before escaping into Maryland. A crowd, including Aiken, Hamilton, and Baker, watches in horror as the unconscious President is taken to a nearby boarding house, where he dies early the next morning. Andrew Johnson becomes the next President.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton orders the arrest of all suspects, including Mary Surratt. Booth and David Herold manage to evade capture for some days, but Union soldiers find a barn where they suspect the conspirators are hiding and set it on fire. Herold surrenders while Booth is shot and killed by sergeant Boston Corbett when he sees Booth raising a rifle at the other soldiers.

Maryland Senator Reverdy Johnson, Aiken's boss, is Mary Surratt's defense attorney. Her son, John Surratt, has escaped and now hundreds of agents are looking for him. Also charged are Herold, Powell, Atzerodt, Michael O'Laughlen, Edman Spangler, Samuel Mudd, and Samuel Arnold. Reverdy feels unable to defend Surratt because he is a Southerner and asks a reluctant Aiken who is a Northerner to take over the defense.

Aiken visits Mary in her cell to question her. Mary asks Aiken to look in on her daughter, Anna. Aiken does so and searches the boarding house for clues. He finds a ticket with the initials "LJW" (Louis J. Weichmann). At the court, Weichmann, a seminary friend of Mary's son John, is the first witness and describes John's meetings with Booth, as well as points out Herold, Powell, and Atzerodt as frequent guests in Mary's boarding house. Aiken incriminates Weichmann by making him appear as guilty as the rest of the conspirators.

Aiken again tries to stop defending Mary because he believes that she is guilty. He meets with her intending to get evidence of her guilt when she explains that John and the others conspired to kidnap Lincoln, not to kill him. They were about to attack a carriage but were stopped by Booth, who reported that Lincoln was elsewhere. She says that John left town and went into hiding two weeks before the assassination and that she has no idea where he is. Aiken asks Anna for information to help with his trial preparations, but she refuses.

At the court, Chief Prosecutor Joseph Holt brings the innkeeper John Lloyd to the stand. Lloyd claims that Mary gave him binoculars to give to Booth and told him to prepare shooting irons and whiskey for Booth and Herold on the night of the assassination. Aiken angers Lloyd by implying that he, an admitted alcoholic, was bribed with whiskey for his testimony. Lloyd is dragged out of the courtroom after he threatens Aiken.

Aiken arrives at the Century Club to attend a party and discovers that his membership has been revoked for defending Mary Surratt. This triggers an argument with Sarah, who disowns and leaves him. Aiken asks Anna to testify. Anna testifies that Mary had no part in the assassination of Lincoln and that it was her brother John who did. Anna visits Aiken at his house and tells him about Booth and John. Aiken then visits Father Jacob Walter, who has been attending to Mary, but he also insists he does not know where John is. Aiken asks Walter to deliver a message to John saying that his mother will hang for his crimes if he does not surrender. On July 6, Mary is found guilty on all charges and is at first sentenced to life in prison, but with Stanton's intervention, she is then sentenced to hang with Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt while Mudd, Arnold, O'Laughlen, and Spangler are given prison sentences. Aiken procures a writ of habeas corpus, signed by a reluctant Judge Andrew Wylie, for the release of Mary so that she can be tried in a civilian court, but President Johnson suspends the writ, and the four condemned prisoners are hanged.

Sixteen months later, Aiken visits John Surratt, who was captured abroad and is in jail. John thanks him for his kindness to his mother. Aiken offers him Mary's rosary, but he declines. The epilogue goes on to state that a year later, the US Supreme Court ruled that citizens were entitled to trial by a civilian jury, not a military tribunal, even in times of war (Ex parte Milligan), and that a jury of Northerners and Southerners could not agree on a verdict for John Surratt, and he was freed. Aiken left the law and became The Washington Post's first City Editor.



Principal photography began in October 2009, in Savannah, Georgia and wrapped in December 2009. Fort Pulaski National Monument, located east of Savannah, served as the military prison in the film. Civil war reenactors and living historians were used to portray soldiers in various scenes. To supplement the reenactors, extras from the local community were also employed as soldiers.

The Mary E. Surratt Boarding House still stands, and is located at 604 H Street NW in Washington D.C.'s Chinatown. Mary Surratt's farmhouse in Clinton, Maryland, is now a museum. The town in which the farmhouse stands was originally called Surrattsville. The United States Post Office renamed the town Robeysville due to the notoriety of the Surratt name. In 1879, Robeysville was renamed Clinton.


The Conspirator premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2010. A few days after its screening, the film was acquired by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions for distribution.[12] The film was released theatrically on April 15, 2011.


Box officeEdit

The film performed poorly at the box office grossing only $3,506,602 during its opening weekend. After its initial run, the film grossed $11,538,204 domestically with a worldwide total of $15,478,800. Because the film had a budget of $25 million, the film is considered a box office flop despite the fact that its widest release was in 849 theaters.[2]

Critical receptionEdit

Upon its release, the film received a mixed reception from critics. Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 55/100 based on 37 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[13] Rotten Tomatoes reports that 55% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 169 reviews, with an average score of 6.1/10. The website's critical consensus states that "The Conspirator is well cast and tells a worthy story, but many viewers will lack the patience for Redford's deliberate, stagebound approach."[14]

Critics have cited it as an analogy to the post-9/11 atmosphere.[15][16] Writing for Jacobin in 2015, Eileen Jones criticized the film for promoting the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.[17]


  1. ^ McClintock, Pamela (16 May 2010). "Sony snaps up 'Hanna'". Variety. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b "The Conspirator (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  3. ^ "Full cast and crew for 'The Conspirator'". IMDb. Retrieved 2011-02-14.
  4. ^ "Pics and Justin Long for Redford's Conspirator". 2009-10-16. Archived from the original on 2010-09-22. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  5. ^ Evans, Ian (2010), "The Conspirator premiere photos - 35th Toronto International Film Festival",, retrieved 2012-04-10
  6. ^ Grabert, Jessica (June 1, 2011). "The Conspirator Comes To Blu-Ray And DVD With A Slew Of Historical Extras". CinemaBlend. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  7. ^ Uno, Lori Taki (August 15, 2011). "New DVDs – 'Jane Eyre,' 'The Conspirator,' 'Hoodwinked Too!'". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  8. ^ Justin Kroll (2009-10-27). "Danny Huston". Variety. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  9. ^ Borys Kit (2009-11-16). "Stephen Root cast in two films". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on November 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  10. ^ Justin Kroll (2009-11-10). "Johnny Simmons". Variety. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  11. ^[user-generated source]
  12. ^ Goldberg, Matt (September 15, 2010). "BEAUTIFUL BOY, THE CONSPIRATOR, SUBMARINE, and INSIDIOUS Find Distributors at Toronto International Film Festival". Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  13. ^ "The Conspirator Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
  14. ^ "The Conspirator (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  15. ^ ‘The Conspirator’ is a Compelling Allegory
  16. ^ 'The Conspirator' is a post-9/11 message movie. Are you as tired of post-9/11 message movies as I am?
  17. ^ Jones, Eileen (Spring 2012). "The Cinematic Lost Cause". Jacobin. Retrieved March 15, 2021.

External linksEdit