Kauffman, a vigorous antiwar activist ambiguously on the rightward side of American politics, jumps right into the thick of it in the opening scenes of his screenplay for Copperhead, the new Civil War movie by the director of Gettysburg (1993). Kauffman’s protagonist, an antiwar farmer in upstate New York, is heard reading aloud to his sons in the spring of 1862: “Benjamin Wade, a Republican of Ohio, says anyone who quotes the Constitution in the current crisis is a traitor. But listen how a Democrat paper in Ohio gave it right back to him: ‘Such an abolitionist should be hung until the flesh rots off his bones and the winds of Heaven whistle Yankee Doodle through his loathsome skeleton.’”
The language is fair warning of what’s to come. Copperhead, which opens June 28, is the rare movie (maybe even the only one) that portrays a Peace Democrat as a sympathetic character even though he refused to choose between two of the vilest institutions of human invention, war and slavery.
I particularly like Buhle and Wagner’s description of how the film’s cinematography conveys its ethos:
The tone is that of an older BBC production, with lingering shots of farm life and an emphasis on the work—milk production, a sawmill operation, draft animals bobbing down dirt roads. There are crane shots of fields, barns, and trees uplifted by violins and flutes as they climb the updrafts of pastoral memories, all to insist that it is the community, more than any individual, that is the center of the picture. The politics of the narrative reveal how the life of a particular time and place has come under attack by alien ideologies—Yankee-style state capitalism, Southern slavocracy, and sympathizers of John Brown.