April 18, 2018

Chappaquiddick: Documentary Drama Revisits Kennedy Cover-Up of Tragic Accident

By Kam Williams

On July 18, 1969, Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (Jason Clarke) hosted a reunion in a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick, a tiny island just 150 yards off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The gathering was in honor of the Boiler Room Girls, six women who had worked on his late brother Bobby’s presidential campaign the previous year.

Around 11:15 pm, Kennedy left the party in his ‘67 Oldsmobile with one of those young staffers, 28 year-old Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). About an hour later, the car, driven by Kennedy, went down a dirt road and off of a wooden bridge. The driver lost control and the car landed upside-down in  Poucha Pond.

Kennedy managed to escape from the car and swim to shore, leaving Mary Jo in the submerged automobile, wrongly assuming that she was dead. Unfortunately, she was still alive and able to breathe, thanks to a large air pocket in the car.

However, instead of trying to save Mary Jo, Kennedy — who was planning to run for the White House in ‘72 — was more concerned with minimizing the potential damage the accident might have on his political ambitions. So, while Mary Jo remained trapped in the car for hours, he convened the Kennedy family’s brain trust instead of first reporting the accident to the police and fire department.

In fact, the authorities only learned about the wreck the next morning when, at low tide, some fishermen spotted the wheels of a car upside down in the channel. Unfortunately, by the time divers arrived, Mary Jo had drowned.

Nevertheless, Kennedy and his helpers, did their best to exculpate him of any wrongdoing. At first, he claimed Mary Jo had been driving, so that no one could accuse him of driving under the influence of alcohol. Later, he admitted to being behind the wheel but concocted a story about having tried to rescue her several times before she died.

Thanks to the Kennedy family’s connections, the legal team was able to influence the inquest. Without performing an autopsy, the medical examiner concluded that Kopechne had died of drowning. Consequently, the powerful senator was not indicted by the grand jury nor charged with a crime of any nature.

Directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), Chappaquiddick is a documentary drama that sets the record straight about what really happened on that fateful night in 1969. Ironically, the elaborate cover-up didn’t allow Kennedy to run for president, although it did keep him out of jail.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for smoking, profanity, mature themes, and disturbing images. Running time: 101 minutes. Production Studio: Apex Entertainment/DMG Entertainment. Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.