Copperhead

 
Civil War drama may raise questions about history.
  • Review Date: June 27, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The pulpit scenes have a clear message to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The movie challenges popular beliefs about the Civil War.

Positive role models

Abner Beech, a "Peace Democrat," is portrayed as a pacifist who doesn't believe that the Civil War is constitutionally sound and who stands by his beliefs, even though he's one of the only ones in his town to be against the war. He's calm and intelligent and never loses his temper, unlike the abolitionists, who are depicted as violent warmongers. Jeff/Tom and Esther both believe in abolition and equal justice for all, but in a less violent manner.

Violence

An election day brawl takes place, followed by a mob visit (with torches) that ends with a house being accidentally burned. A young woman is presumed dead after a fire, and several men who volunteered for the Civil War are reported as killed in action. A man commits suicide when he believes that both of his children are gone. One young man is injured and walks with a limp.

Sex

Esther and Jeff court, dance, and kiss a couple of times. Warner flirts with Janey and dances with and kisses her.

Language

Infrequent strong language includes "s--thole" and insults like "jackass" and "idiot."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink straight from a jug a few times. A character is portrayed as a drunk rabblerouser.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Copperhead is a Civil War drama that focuses on one family of upstate New York Democrats who opposed the conflict. Called "Copperheads," the Northern Democrats are depicted as pacifists who don't believe that President Lincoln is acting within his constitutional bounds, while the town's abolitionists are portrayed as violent zealots who will stand by as the country is destroyed for the sake of freeing the slaves. Older kids and teens who've learned about the war may have questions about the movie's historical accuracy, and parents should be prepared to clarify some of the oversimplified depictions. There's very little language, a few kisses, and a couple of scenes of men drinking from a jug. Violence includes a brawl, a mob that accidentally lights a house on fire, and a disturbing image of a man who hangs himself. Ultimately, the movie's lesson is a biblical and civil one -- to love your neighbor as you love yourself, even if you disagree with him.

What's the story?

During the "War Between the States," a group of Northern Democrats (called "Copperheads") opposed the Civil War on the basis that it was unconstitutional. In upstate New York, one such Peace Democrat and anti-abolitionist, Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), steadfastly holds to the belief that President Lincoln is wrong. But Abner's son, Jeff (Casey Brown), has eyes for schoolteacher Esther (Lucy Boynton), the daughter of the town's leading abolitionist and Civil War supporter, Jee Hagadorn (Angus Macfadyen). As the star-crossed young people fall in love, Jeff (now called Tom, because Jeff is the name of the president of the Confederacy) enlists in the Union Army, an act of rebellion to his father. Jeff is later declared Missing in Action, and the town begins to prosecute the Beeches.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Director Ronald F. Maxwell is clearly obsessed with the Civil War, having already made the lengthy dramatic features Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. Although the topic is fascinating -- few movies have focused on the Northern Democrats who opposed the war -- it's depicted in a way that may not be entirely historically accurate. Maxwell is known, through his films, to posit a pro-Confederate view of the Civil War, in which the abolitionists and Lincoln are the bloodthirsty aggressors, and the Southern slaveowners and generals are the true heroes who were merely defending their home states.

COPPERHEAD's story about a peace-loving New York Democrat who doesn't want his son drawn into a war (which is repeatedly called the War Between the States instead of the Civil War) that he finds unconstitutional is compelling. The "bad guy" abolitionist is portrayed as a drunk rabblerouser who doesn't care who dies as long as the scourge of slavery is abolished. And then there's the Romeo and Juliet love story, which is only resolved after a death. It's interesting, but it seems made for the Hallmark Channel, rather than a theatrical release. It's fine for family viewing, but be aware that it's a revisionist rendering of the Civil War's causes and how Peace Democrats acted -- one that isn't supported by academic accounts of either Copperheads or the Civil War itself.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what they learned from Copperhead about the Civil War. How does it differ from other depictions of the time?

  • What is the director trying to say about the Civil War? Why do you think there are still such strong opinions about the causes of the war?

  • According to one historian, the Northern "Peace Democrats" weren't pacifists, like the Quakers and the Mennonites, and were very much pro-slavery. So why do you think the filmmaker makes it seem like Abner is a pacifist who's "concerned" about slavery? How could you find out more about the abolitionists and the Copperheads?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 28, 2013
DVD release date:April 15, 2014
Cast:Angus Macfadyen, Billy Campbell, Lucy Boynton
Director:Ronald F. Maxwell
Studio:Brainstorm Media
Genre:Drama
Topics:History
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:an unsettling sequence

This review of Copperhead was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byFligemon July 27, 2013
age 13+
 

We Still Have Snakes Today

Excellent movie that tells a overlooked story without an emphasis on entertainment. The reviewer makes a big mistake in characterizing the movie as "revisionist" history. Copperheads is the pejorative name given to those in the North who did not support the war. Kinda like calling those who do not support the current President as "Racist".
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old May 5, 2014

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