'Chappaquiddick' movie revisits 1969 Ted Kennedy scandal

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Almost a decade after U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy died, director John Curran has made a film that tries to get into his mind during the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident that dogged his career, instead of merely placing blame for the death of campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne.

“Chappaquiddick,” opening in U.S. movie theaters on April 6, looks at the accident that led to the 1969 drowning death of Kopechne, the passenger who drowned in Kennedy’s car after he drove it off a bridge and into a pond.

Kennedy, who did not immediately report what happened, later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two-month suspended jail sentence. Questions about the incident hindered his presidential ambitions for years and have spurred numerous books, documentaries and films.

The film follows Kennedy’s emotional reaction to the accident and his advisors’ attempts to try and contain the ensuing scandal.

“If you want to understand Ted, who he was before, during and after, this is the moment to examine him, this week or 10-day period,” said actor Jason Clarke, who plays Kennedy. “This is it, this is the making of a man.”

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Curran shied away from trying to make the film a definitive version of what may have happened between Kennedy and Kopechne on July 18, 1969.

“What I like about John Curran’s version is you can draw your own conclusions. How much empathy you retain for Ted Kennedy is up to you,” said Jim Gaffigan, who plays Kennedy’s friend Paul Markham.

Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat, died in 2009 at age 77 after serving almost 47 years as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. He was the younger brother of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy and of former U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 after winning the Democratic presidential primary in California.

“Ted is a dichotomy, you know. He is truly, truly a conundrum of liberalism and the Democratic party that still exists, the good and the bad,” Clarke said

Clarke referenced Kennedy’s efforts on behalf of civil rights and better access to medical care, but he added. “Then there’s the immense hypocrisy and white privilege that allows him to get away with something.”

Reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by David Gregorio