Aftermath Of Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick Tragedy To Be Revisited In Indie Film

Hollywood is set to revisit the events on Chappaquiddick in 1969 which ended U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s dream of becoming president. A new independent film directed by John Curran, whose credits include The Painted Veil, will explore the aftermath on the night Kennedy had been driving back from a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard, along with a former aide to his brother Robert, Mary Jo Kopechne, when he took a wrong turn and veered off a narrow bridge. Kennedy was able to free himself from the sinking vehicle and swim to shore, leaving Miss Kopechne to drown.

Australian-born Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clarke will portray Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, the film’s working title. The movie’s co-producer and Apex Entertainment President and Chief Executive Mark Ciardi said production is slated to begin around Labor Day with a 2017 planned release, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

“In some parts it will be educational, that, wow, in 1969 this happened, with the moon landing in the backdrop, this event happened and how everything kind of played out after that,” said Ciardi, noting how younger generations may know little about the story. The film will contain elements of political intrigue, but Ciardi says, “I certainly wouldn’t characterize it as just a political movie at all.”

The Daily Mail notes how Kennedy — widely known as Ted — failed to report the incident for nearly 10 hours which was, by his own admission, “indefensible.” He told friends that he didn’t report the accident because he “somehow believed that when the sun came up and it was a new morning that what had happened the night before would not have happened and did not happen.” Even before he notified police, he phoned an old friend, hoping to get advice. By then, authorities were already aware of the tragedy because a fisherman had spotted the overturned car and contacted them.

Ted Kennedy was subjected to an investigation but he was not charged with causing Kopechne’s death, which critics and locals attributed to his influential family connections. He later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two-month suspended sentence.

In his memoir, True Compass, published shortly after his death from brain cancer in 2009, Kennedy acknowledged that people remained skeptical about his version of events, and he wrote, “I’ve had to live with that guilt for forty years. But my burden is nothing compared to her (Kopechne) loss and the suffering her family had to endure.”

Last year, Mary Jo’s surviving family members released a book titled Our Mary Jo, and launched a scholarship fund in her name at Misericordia University in Dallas. The inspiration for the book came about three years prior when co-author William Nelson and his mother, who was Kopechne’s first cousin, “were sifting through the hundreds of sympathy letters sent to Kopechne’s parents.” Some of those letters were revealed publicly in the book for the first time.

“Mary Jo always got lost in the shuffle of Chappaquiddick,” said Nelson. “In many ways, her book and her scholarship kind of take Mary Jo back from Chappaquiddick. They finally bring her back to the Wyoming Valley.”

The book highlights how Kopechne died because “Chappaquiddick was never about Mary Jo,” Nelson said. “Chappaquiddick was about a lot of other people — who did what and what they didn’t do. We came to the realization Mary Jo owes Chappaquiddick no debt.”

Ciardi said he has not reached out to the Kennedy family, including Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, about participating on the film, and isn’t concerned about any potential backlash because he intends to portray a story that “feels fair and accurate.”

Chappaquiddick producers are currently scouting locations for filming, and there’s no word yet on if the island itself is a possible site. Local officials say no request has been made to film on the island, which has changed little overtime. Guardrails have been added to Dike Bridge to help prevent similar tragedies.

[Image via Shutterstock]