For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Mary Surratt is the alleged lone female conspirator among eight who were charged with the assassination of President Lincoln. Along with four others, she was hung in July 1865 and was the first woman to have been executed by the U.S. government. In the movie, young attorney, Frederick Aiken, represents her against his better judgment. The movie casts doubt on Mary's guilt, and Aiken tries to uncover the truth.
For the most part, costuming and historical sets were excellent. I have quite a bit of knowledge about military trials of the era, and the movie puzzled me in that regard. It came across as a mix of a military and civilian trial, but the average viewer isn't going to notice that detail. There were many more individuals involved in the actual trial than the movie portrayed, but too many characters would have made the story confusing.
I have read criticisms from historians that Mary Surratt led to her own downfall with lies (since I haven't researched the subject myself, I can't make any conclusion), nor did she defend herself. A defendant wasn't allowed to take the stand in their own defense in military trials during the 1860s. They could bring in as many witnesses as necessary in order to attempt to prove their innocence, but they were only allowed statements to the court.
The biggest criticism I've read about the movie from other reviewers is that slavery was never mentioned. Those reviewers show their ignorance. While slavery was certainly an important aspect of the Civil War, it was much more complex than any single issue. Mary Surratt had owned slaves, but the movie had nothing to do with slavery. In fact, apparently one of her former slaves testified in her defense. This was never mentioned, nor were statements from a co-conspirator, who insisted several times that she was innocent.
Whether Mary Surratt was guilty or innocent is a question that may never be answered. What is clear is that she never received a fair trial, and in that regard, the movie was accurate. But then, even if she had received a trial by her peers, with the judicial system of the time only allowing white males as judge and jury, could she have ever received a fair trial?
I enjoyed The Conspirator. It kept me captivated, and it's message is as relevant today as it was in the 1860s.Kim Murphy