Director John Curran was at first hesitant to sign on for “Chappaquiddick,” a film that explores a tragic chapter in the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
As a person who admired Kennedy, who died in 2009, Curran had no interest in bringing a “salacious hit piece” to the big screen. Luckily, the script that arrived on his desk “was nuanced and compelling,” Curran told CNN via email.
The film centers on the 1969 accident in which a car driven by Kennedy lost control while crossing a bridge and crashed into a pond. Kennedy escaped the wreckage, but campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne died.
CNN Original Series “American Dynasties: The Kennedys” premieres Sunday, March 11, at 9 p.m. ET.
Kennedy was criticized for waiting ten hours to alert the police.
Jason Clarke (“Mudbound,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) plays Kennedy in the film. Kate Mara (“House of Cards,” “Fantastic Four”) plays Kopechne.
“Like most people who supported Ted throughout his career, I was complicit in a way by conveniently ignoring this chapter in his life. When in fact it was this tragedy that determined the arc of his career,” Curran said.
Kennedy was then a senator on the rise at the time of the accident.
In the below clip from “Chappaquiddick,” first on CNN, a dazed Kennedy is seen about an hour after his futile attempt at rescuing Kopechne, coming to a realization about his political future.
“It’s fair to say by this point he assumed Mary Jo was dead, and his delay in reporting the accident was based on self preservation,” Curran told CNN of the clip. “[Ten] hours passed before he did finally report it, and the film tries to get the heart of why.”
Curran read the script in spring 2016, in the midst of the presidential primaries. With scandals erupting “on both sides of the aisle,” Curran admits, he “became almost disgusted with my hesitancy” to tell the story.
“[I] decided that after 50 years it was time for the story to be reexamined – an honest portrait of the last and youngest brother of our greatest political dynasty in his lowest moment, and also a cautionary tale of the excesses and abuse of power,” he said.
The film is based primarily on the inquest testimony, according to Curran. It opens in theaters on April 6.
“I realize that in this climate a viewer’s reaction to the film will be largely based on the political prism they watch it through,” Curran said. “In that sense I endeavored to strike a very non-partisan, factual tone.”