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Having spent hours chronicling Civil War battles in Gettysburg and its prequel, Gods and Generals, Ron Maxwell digs into conflict back home in Copperhead. Named for a slur used against Northerners who opposed waging war on the South, the film works best when focused on Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), whose conscience-driven minority opinion makes him a pariah in his upstate New York village. Theatrical prospects are meager (unlike the previous pictures, this one lacks Ted Turner‘s support), but history buffs may appreciate its earnest look at an underexplored subject on small screens.
Beech is a dairy farmer who’s opposed to slavery but, in language that will resonate with Tea Party-affiliated viewers, argues that Lincoln’s war is unconstitutional. He’s a good deal calmer than his present-day dissident kin, though: Campbell offers as much intellect as righteousness and more sadness than anger over his neighbors’ war fever.
Some of Campbell’s co-stars aren’t as delicate. As one of the area’s most vocal supporters of the war, Angus Macfadyen verges on glassy-eyed religious possession. Melodramatically, these two enemies are the fathers of a pair of sweethearts. Partly in an attempt to show solidarity with his girlfriend’s family, Tom Beech enlists in the Union army and breaks his father’s heart.
Instead of following Tom to the front, the film observes the effects of his (and many of his friends’) absence on the town and the price Abner pays for his unpopular opinion. Dramatic turns that may have been more gradually developed in Harold Frederic‘s source novel feel somewhat schematic here, though the picture’s naturalistic evocations of farm life balance that moralizing tendency out a bit.
Production Company: Swordpoint Productions
Cast: Billy Campbell, Angus Macfadyen, Augustus Prew, Lucy Boynton, Francois Arnaud, Casey Thomas Brown, Peter Fonda
Director: Ron Maxwell
Screenwriter: Bill Kauffman; Based on the novel by Harold Frederic
Producer: Ron Maxwell
Executive producers: Robert Bishop, Susan Bishop
Director of photography: Kees Van Oostrum
Production designer: Bill Fleming
Music: Laurent Eyquem
Costume designer: Kate Rose
Editor: Marc Pollon
PG-13, 119 minutes
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