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“Chappaquiddick” saga keeps you guessing

Updated: Jun 7, 2021


Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (Jason Clarke) leaves the funeral for Mary Jo Kopechne, wearing a phony neck brace in a play for sympathy.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2017; PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language and smoking; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNow (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube

Best extra: The 30-minute documentary “A Reckoning: Revisiting Chappaquiddick”

THE INSPIRATION for first-time screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s political suspense drama “Chappaquiddick,” surprisingly, wasn’t the mysterious fatal accident and scandal involving Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (Jason Clarke) and Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) during the summer of 1969. Rather, it was Kennedy’s decision decades later, in 2008, to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president. “Political pundits were surprised,” says Allen in the documentary. They recognized how Kennedy probably would have been president had it not been for his shameful actions on that July night.

During Obama’s second term, the co-writers decided their first project had to be “something political,” and “Kennedy came up again,” says Logan. “He was such a fascinating historical character and truly had never been explored.”

Telling Kennedy’s story would ultimately focus on the seven days surrounding the tragic events, since it spoke to the larger themes of his political legacy of activism.

Coincidently, the same week of the accident, Apollo 11 was heading to the moon, and the nation and media were focused on NASA’s incredible mission.

“It reads like a thriller and it could work as a non-fiction, as well as a fiction, piece,” says producer Mark Chiardi. The writers did their research, with most of the script based on the nearly 1000-page inquest, from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1970.

“Our script is an honest portrayal of what happened on the island that night.” producer Campbell G. McInnes

Actor Jim Gaffigan says, “I was attracted to the story because it wasn’t presented as an indictment of Ted Kennedy.” Gaffigan plays Paul Markham, a longtime Kennedy friend, who worked in his 1962 senatorial campaign, and was later appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. Markham and Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms), Kennedy’s closest friend and cousin, are the moral compasses for the story, says Chiardi. “The guys are caught in the middle of the tornado with Teddy,” says actor Ed Helms. Both men had advised Kennedy to report the accident and summon help.

(1) Friday, July 18, 1969 - Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (Jason Clarke) and Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) have a quiet moment on the beach. (2) Ted Kennedy races the family sailboat “Victura” in the annual Edgartown Regatta. Gargan and Markham were his crew and they ended up in ninth place. (3) The Boiler room girls are honored by Sen. Kennedy.

Director John Curran, who respected the Kennedy legacy, was selected to helm the project. “He’s a demanding director,” says the Australian actor Jason Clarke, who gives an honest performance as the indecisive Kennedy. “I felt in very strong hands.”

FACTS: Kennedy had come to Martha’s Vineyard to race the family sailboat “Victura” in the annual Edgartown Regatta. Gargan and Markham were his crew and they ended up in ninth place.

That night, a cookout was held at a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick Island for the “Boiler room girls,” devoted staff members of Sen. Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. It was the first gathering since his assassination and Ted Kennedy called them “family.” Later that night he left the party with 28-year-old Kopechne. Kennedy, then 37, was at the wheel when he drove a black Oldsmobile off the Dike Bridge into a tidal pond. He managed to escape the overturned car, but Kopechne drowned. Kennedy didn’t report the accident to police until 9:30 the next morning.

(1) The 1967 Oldsmobile was driven off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. (2) Kennedy is exhausted and shocked after multiple attempts to save Mary Jo Kopechne. (3) Saturday, July 19 - The Oldsmobile was found upside down in the water. (4) The body of Mary Jo Kopechne was recovered from the accident scene. (5) Chief Arena (John Fiore) is puzzled why he can't find Sen. Kennedy.

A week after the accident, Kennedy gave a nationally broadcast statement of his account, which was written by J.F.K. speechwriter Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols). Sorenson was part of the team of mostly former cabinet members, including Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), called into action by Ted’s ailing father, Joe (Bruce Dern), to get his son off the hook.

The gaps in the story are still a mystery, giving room for the writers to speculate on what happened between Kennedy and Kopechne, which they implied was a close friendship, united in grief by Bobby’s tragic death. The writers also extracted the expanded timeline from the 1970 inquiry, in which Kennedy testified with greater clarity than his original, less than fully credible, handwritten statement.

(1) Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms) and Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) confront Ted Kennedy the morning after the accident. (2) Kennedy is overcome with emotion after phoning the Kopechne family. (3) Bruce Dern plays Joe Kennedy.


Captured on 3.2K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) by French cinematographer Maryse Alberti ("The Wrestler"), who framed each scene mostly with a wide and sensitive composition, but unfortunately it was mastered in 2K. Lionsgate decided to only release “Chappaquiddick” on 4K HDR/Dolby Vision on the streaming sites, which is becoming common practice with small indie films. With a reduced online bitrate the 4K comes up short in a resolution bump. The upconverted 4K and the Blu-ray are nearly identical, in terms of onscreen clarity.

The big difference arises with the HDR toning. Overall its toned slightly darker compared to the Blu-ray. The opening scene, filmed on a beach at Martha’s Vineyard with Mary Jo and Rachel (Olivia Thirlby), another Boiler room girl, the clouds are more defined, while the highlights are brighter. The nighttime accident, filmed at the famed Mexico deepwater tank where “Titanic” was captured, has a darker black level, while providing more detail in the shadows, as repeated attempts are made to save Kopechne. The original bridge had been replaced with a modern structure.

The confused and indecisive Ted Kennedy.

Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols) and Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) are the leaders of the team of former J.F.K. cabinet members, called into action by Ted’s ailing father, Joe (Bruce Dern), to get his son off the hook.

Ted Kennedy tried to win his father's confidence, but Joe Kennedy said, "You'll never be great."

In addition, during the final act when Kennedy attends Kopechne’s funeral, wearing a phony neck brace in a play for sympathy, the color palette is much colder and slightly desaturated compared to the Blu-ray. Overall the HDR toning gives a more dramatic visual presentation.


The streaming 4K is housed with the low-grade Dolby Digital Plus with some compression applied, while the Blu-ray is encoded with the uncompressed simple and quiet six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack balanced between the heavy dialogue from the front speakers and the organic electronic tones from composer Garth Stevenson. The surround speakers get a brief workout during the media frenzy outside the courthouse and when the car hits the water.

“Chappaquiddick” is bound to raise new questions while answering others, regarding the man known as the “Lion of the Senate,” who served the people of Massachusetts for 46 years.

― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Friday July 25, 1969 - Senator Edward M. Kennedy leaves the County of Dukes courthouse after pleading guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after knowingly causing injury to Mary Jo Kopechne without making himself known. The judge imposed a suspended two-month sentence.

Joseph Gargan held the clue cards for Sen. Kennedy during the national broadcast. It would be Gargan's last duty for his cousin. Their relationship was never restored.

Friday evening - Senator Edward M. Kennedy addressed the people of Massachusetts and the nation on all three networks.




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