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Hollywood film to revisit events on Chappaquiddick in 1969

Published 03/05/2016

The body of Mary Jo Kopechne was found in a rear seat of the car (AP)
The body of Mary Jo Kopechne was found in a rear seat of the car (AP)

A new film is revisiting the events of the Chappaquiddick tragedy in which a car driven by US senator Edward Kennedy went off a bridge, killing his woman companion and setting off political ramifications lasting decades.

The late Mr Kennedy's actions, explanations and motives in the hours and days after the July 18 1969 drama at Dike Bridge on the tiny Massachusetts island have been explored in numerous articles, books and documentaries.

Now the groundwork is being laid for an independent feature film that will perhaps rekindle questions lingering for nearly half a century.

Australian-born Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clarke will portray Mr Kennedy in Chappaquiddick - the film's working title - and John Curran, whose credits include The Painted Veil, will direct, the movie's co-producer, Apex Entertainment president and chief executive Mark Ciardi, said.

Production is due to begin in September, with a tentative release in late 2017.

"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 Mr Ciardi, noting that younger generations may know little about the story.

Concentrating on the immediate aftermath of the accident, the film will contain elements of political and legal intrigue, but Mr Ciardi added: "I certainly wouldn't characterise it as just a political movie at all."

Mr Kennedy had gone to Martha's Vineyard to race in the Edgartown Regatta and that evening he attended a party at a rented house on serene and picturesque Chappaquiddick, which is separated from the vineyard by a narrow strait and accessed by a small, barge-like ferry.

Guests included Kennedy friends and several women, including Mary Jo Kopechne, who had worked on the presidential campaign of his brother Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated a year earlier.

Mr Kennedy and Ms Kopechne, 28, left the party together and a short time later the car plunged into Poucha Pond. Mr Kennedy escaped from the submerged vehicle and said he made several futile attempts to rescue Ms Kopechne, who was trapped inside.

Mr Kennedy, who later described his failure to report the incident to police for nine hours as "indefensible", pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two-month suspended sentence. A grand jury was convened but no indictments were returned.

Chappaquiddick would cast a long shadow over Mr Kennedy's US Senate career and probably helped thwart his hopes of winning the presidency.

In his autobiography True Compass, published shortly after his death from brain cancer in 2009, Kennedy acknowledged that many people remained sceptical and others "contemptuous" of his explanations surrounding the accident.

"I've had to live with that guilt for forty years," he wrote. "But my burden is nothing compared to her (Ms Kopechne's) loss and the suffering her family had to endure."

Producers are currently scouting locations for filming, according to Mr Ciardi, who would not say if Chappaquiddick itself was a possible site.

Local officials say no request has been made to film on the island, which has changed little over time. The only vague reminder of the long-ago events are guardrails added to Dike Bridge to help prevent similar tragedies.

Mr Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, did not return a call seeking comment on the film.

Mr Ciardi said he has not reached out to the Kennedy family and is not concerned about any potential backlash.

"What you try to do is have a portrayal of a story that, you know, feels fair and accurate," he said.

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