An historical docudrama that charts John Wilkes Booth as he plots to assassinate Abraham Lincoln

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was a pivotal moment in American history. The Confederacy of the south was losing ground to the Union of the north in America’s fierce and bloody civil war, so a small and independent group of Confederate spies attempt to swing the balance back in their favour, by cutting off the head of the Union in an attempt to lift the deflated morale of their defeated nation.

Lincoln was shot in a theatre by John Wilkes Booth, a fascinating character who believed passionately in the Confederacy’s right for independence. Living in the north but maintaining vocal Confederate views, Booth’s political beliefs cost him his family, his acting career, his love and, ultimately, his life.

I presume that information on the American Civil War must be pumped into American school children from an early age. As a result there’s little background information in this book on the context of Lincoln’s assassination, except for a handful of newspaper headlines and the odd passing comment from characters. While this won’t retread familiar ground for those already knowledgeable about the war, it leaves those of us with less background floundering for information and motives. There are plenty of resources on the web – Wikipedia is probably as good a starting point as any – but if you’re not already familiar with the war, you might need to brush up on some American history.

The script is a bit dry, perhaps because it’s been written by someone more at home writing history books than docudrama. And while it’s interesting to watch this middle-class man convert from actor into murderer, it remains difficult for an outsider to the full historical perspective to understand why. It certainly isn’t revealed here. Perhaps it’s because the reasons are hard to take – Booth was, for example, vehemently against Lincoln’s desire to abolish slavery.

The art is very sketchy and sometimes difficult to follow. Conversational speech bubbles can come from all over the place, often seemingly from the wrong person. This adds confusion, particularly when characters are arguing conflicting views.

It’s an interesting read but its historical imperative leaves some of the drama and dynamism of fiction behind. Booth was clearly a complex and difficult character to capture and it hasn’t quite worked, leaving too many questions unanswered. Perhaps those with a better knowledge of the history could slot this character study into place. But from my perspective, the book could have further explained the historical scenery over which this personal – albeit politically and historically significant – drama was played.

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