Chappaquiddick is the island in Massachusetts where, in July, 1969, the car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy with Mary Jo Kopechne as passenger went off a narrow bridge into the water.
Kennedy was able to get out of the car, but Mary Jo was not able to get out and she died.
All the details of the accident and the loss of Miss Kopechne are only known from Kennedy’s recounting of the event. He could not locate her; he did not know she was trapped in the car and he could not find her. The most damning aspect of the tragedy is that he walked back to his hotel and did not report the accident until 10 hours later.
Kennedy was tried for manslaughter, based on his delay in reporting the accident. He was convicted and he served a suspended two-year sentence.
Chappaquiddick is a film that is based on tons of research done by the screenwriters. They assembled a script that aims to expose facts and deceptions that have never been revealed before.
Most of the close associates around Kennedy, including some family and political advisors (Robert McManara, Atty Paul Markham, Ted Sorensen, et al) assembled to plot a strategy that would allow the senator to avoid responsibility in the death of the young woman.
All of Kennedy’s staff were at a weekend gathering on the island, including the group of six women who provided vital technical support for the senator. Mary Jo was one of the best of this group. She was a key member of Robert Kennedy’s staff when he was running for president.
She is shown to be particularly close to Kennedy, but there is no serious depiction of an affair. They are shown in scenes with just the two of them at various times, and then they go off in the car on the fateful evening.
The senator takes the lead in formulating deceptive chapters of the story, but in the film, it shows him coming around to the “truth.” That brings him in conflict with his top advisors, who have enough influence in the local government that they are able to delay critical items. Newspaper coverage is stalled. The manslaughter trial is delayed until after the historic moon landing by Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong is not moved off the front pages for this dark tale.
In the end, we see Kennedy prevailing in coming out with his version of the story. He goes on television and reads his version, which does not exonerate him, but softens the landing for him. He is urged by his close cousin, Joe Gargan, to announce his resignation at the end of the TV broadcast. He agrees but forgoes that step as the TV program ends.
Part of the problem that Kennedy faces is that the family has suffered a series of tragic deaths and he is the only surviving son. Joseph Kennedy, the head of the family (Bruce Dern), wanted nothing more than to have a son as president. Joseph, Jr. was killed in WWII. John did make it but was killed in the Dallas assassination. Bobby was shot dead while campaigning for the office. Ted was the last and only hope for the father who was completely debilitated by a stroke. Typical of his attitude, he completely blamed Ted and tried, in his limited capacity, to get Ted to lie his way out of it.
Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy and is very good. He bears a resemblance to the young senator and effects a Boston accent which is convincing. Kate Mara is also fine in her role as Mary Jo.
My take on Chappaquiddick is that it is a good film with interesting drama elements.
Just as the 2017 film, I, Tonya, it is a very good drama, but we probably won’t know all the facts in either case.
Chappaquiddick is at Harkins Sedona 6 theater.