There is always something of a stir when scripts make the leap from Black List recognition to actual production – but Chappaquiddick has the added sensationalism of being about one of the biggest controversies in modern times. Written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan – both making their feature-length debut – and directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), the film focuses on the single-vehicle car accident in 1969 that resulted in the death of a young American woman, named Mary Jo Kopechne.
It was controversial, because the car also contained U.S Senator Ted Kennedy, who was found to be responsible for the crash. He had held a small party at a cottage on the island of Chappaquiddick – off the coast of Cape Cod – attended by six young women that had worked for the presidential campaign of his brother, Robert F Kennedy, who was assassinated a year earlier. Also in attendance at the gathering were Joe Gargan, Paul F Markham, Charles Tretter, Raymond La Rosa and John Crimmins. According to statements made at the time, Kennedy left the party with Mary Jo Kopechne, and the car they were travelling in ended its journey on its roof, and at the bottom of local Poucha Pond.
The investigation found that Kennedy was able to exit the vehicle, while Kopechne remained trapped. The controversy arose from the fact that Kennedy failed to raise the alarm, and did not approach law enforcement until the submerged car was discovered by local fishermen the following morning. Kennedy received a two-month suspended prison sentence for leaving the scene of an accident and causing injury.
Jason Clarke (Everest) was already announced as being cast in the role of U.S Senator Ted Kennedy, and now he is joined by Kate Mara (The Martian) as Mary Jo Kopechne, and Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise) as Joe Gargan. The casting of Mara in the role of Kopechne suggests that this film will be much more than an exploration of the aftermath of the accident, and will instead include significant attention paid to the circumstances that led to the tragedy.
The casting of Ed Helms is perhaps more fascinating. The actor is renowned for his work in comedy – but the role of Joe Gargan places him at the very heart of this drama. Gargan was a cousin of Senator Kennedy and, along with Paul F. Markham in particular, played a large role in the hours that followed the crash.
Clearly, any dramatization of the events surrounding the Chappaquiddick car crash of 1969 will involve a healthy dose of speculation – since Kopechne did not survive the incident and other major players have also now died. But, assuming this film will make use of the evidence gathered by the official investigation of the time, we can now anticipate the casting announcements of the role of Paul F. Markham in particular, along with the other party attendees.