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Ron Maxwell's 'Copperhead' Evokes Past and Present Cost of War

Ron Maxwell - H 2012
Ron Maxwell

The Civil War chronicler says his latest film now shooting in New Brunswick has parallels to present-day Iraq and Afghanistan.

TORONTO – Copperhead, Ron Maxwell’s latest film now shooting in Atlantic Canada, is ostensibly about families on the homefront split by the bloodshed of the American Civil War.

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But as much as the director of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals is keeping his focus on events in 1862 and telling a compelling story, Maxwell insists his latest Civil War costume drama will inevitably be seen by cinema-goers as an echo of America’s reaction to current events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I keep it (Copperhead) with as much integrity as I can in 1862, but people will watch this film and leave the theatre and say, ‘Wow, it was like a 150 years ago, and it’s like now,’” the director said from King’s Landing, New Brunswick, where he’s shooting the Jason Patric and Angus MacFadyen-starrer set in 19th century upstate New York.

“We’re living through similar times. There’s these great causes articulated -- we’re liberating and we’re freeing people, we’re changing the world, we’re defending liberty – and it’s the same rhetoric with the same consequences,” Maxwell insisted about the cost of war, then and now.

Unlike his earlier Civil War-era epics set on bloody battle fields, Copperhead has a central focus on families back on the home front, burying their dead and feuding amid widespread fear and political panic.

“People die, and it’s mostly young people, it’s mostly the people who have no say in the politics, who have voice in it and who bravely, and with great courage and patriotism, put themselves in harm’s way and pay the price,” Maxwell added.

Copperhead, based on the 19th-century novel of the same name by Harold Frederic, and adapted by Bill Kaufman, examines the price of dissent amid the hysteria of war, as a family is ripped apart by Civil War-era events.

The film, which takes its name from a derisive term used during the Civil War to insult Northerners who opposed the historical conflict, sees Patric play the patriarch Abner Beech, while MacFadyen performs the role of Jee Hagadorn.

At the same time, Maxwell sees political parallels between 1862 and today where few Americans and Canadians have been left untouched by a decade of brutal war and bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan,

“By this time, you have to be living like Rip van Winkle not to understand the devastation that both these wars have wrought on our population,” he said.

Copperhead, which has yet to secure U.S. distribution, will likely be between 95 and 115 minutes in length, Maxwell said.

That’s far shorter in length, and more intimate, than his earlier Civil War epics, where Gettysburg, financed by Ted Turner, was four hours and 15 minutes, and Gods and Generals was three hours and 45 minutes.