In the annals of political scandal several names loom large. Watergate, Profumo and Chappaquiddick, the subject of a new film.
Starring Jason Clarke as Senator Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as the ill-fated Mary Jo Kopechne, Chappaquiddick recreates an infamous event to unveil the inner workings of one of America’s most powerful families.
The incident that gives the film its name took place on Friday, July 18, 1969. Kennedy threw a party on Chappaquiddick Island as a reunion of the “boiler-room girls,” six women who were the engine of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Also in attendance was political campaign specialist Kopechne.
While the others drank, danced and dined Kennedy and Kopechne took a drive that would end when Kennedy veered off a bridge and into a tidal channel. He escaped, she did not.
What followed was the battle between Ted’s conscience and his political well-being, a mish-mash of power, influence and morality. Kennedy ultimately fessed up, pleading guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury, but not before crafting a carefully worded statement and faking a concussion.
The word scandal comes from the Greek word for “snare,” suggesting those enmeshed in trouble are trapped in a breakdown of morality. Politicians, people many hold to a higher standard, caught in a scandal offer up enticing opportunities for drama.
Chappaquiddick’s salacious story of a weak man who panicked is a compelling one, especially when embellished with layers of political and personal intrigue.
Speaking of intrigue, All the President’s Men portrays Watergate, the political scandal that tore down Richard M. Nixon’s presidency. Surprisingly Nixon doesn’t appear on a single frame. Instead it’s the story of the shoe leather burned by the dogged Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. The meticulously researched film was noted for it authentic portrayal of newsroom life and it’s take on Tricky Dick’s dishonour. It struck such a nerve in Washington that it was the first film Jimmy Carter requested to be screened at the White House during his term as President of the United States.
Watergate had all the makings of a great scandal except for one thing, sex. That vital component was more than evident in the Profumo affair, a tawdry British tabloid story brought to vivid life in the 1989 film Scandal. Sunday Herald reporter Barry Didcock called it, “the yardstick against which all other political scandals are measured.”
Ian McKellen stars as John Profumo, the British Minister of War. He’s having an affair with Christine Keeler who is also seeing K.G.B. agent Eugene Ivanov. When news of the love triangle broke the resultant Cold War scandal lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
Scandal has all the elements of a great controversy, sex, suicide and secrecy. It was such a hot potato that more than two decades after the real life events several British politicians lobbied to stop the film’s production. Co-star John Hurt lashed back, calling the complaining politicos hypocrites simply trying to prevent the truth from coming to light.
“It did seem to have pretty much everything,” said Profumo’s son David of the 1963 brouhaha. “It had sex and drugs and class and color and espionage and intrigue—and at a particularly explosive time.”