New Movie about Chappaquiddick

  • Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 11:19am

A newly-released trailer gives the first look at Chappaquiddick, an upcoming movie about Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s infamous 1969 car crash on the Vineyard that led to the death of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Recreated from July 1969: Movie Chappaquiddick was filmed in Edgartown last summer. — Vivian Ewing

The movie bills itself as “based on the untold true story” of what happened on July 18, 1969, when Mr. Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick. Ms. Kopechne, 28, was a passenger in the car and drowned in Poucha Pond. After failing to report the accident immediately, Mr. Kennedy pleaded guilty at the Edgartown courthouse to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two-month suspended sentence.

The trailer features dramatic recreated scenes of the car crash 48 years ago and the aftermath, including the Kennedy family and advisors gathering to deal with what they see as a public relations nightmare for presidential contender Mr. Kennedy.

The film is scheduled for release on April 6. It premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival. Variety Magazine reviewed the movie as “exactly what you want it to be: a tense, scrupulous, absorbingly precise and authentic piece of history — a tabloid scandal attached to a smoke-filled-room travesty.”


The film stars Australian actor Jason Clarke as Mr. Kennedy, Kate Mara as Ms. Kopechne, James Gaffigan as Kennedy friend and former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts Paul Markham, and Ed Helms as Kennedy friend Joe Gargan. It was directed by John Curran.

Lights, camera, action at the Chappy Ferry on a September day. — Vivian Ewing

News about the movie trickled out on the Vineyard in February 2016, and that summer the film production crew asked selectmen for permission to halt traffic on the Dike Bridge Road, close Daggett street, which leads to the Chappy ferry, and clear parking spots at Memorial Wharf and on Morse and North Water streets for a few hours for filming.

But selectmen said it would be impossible to shut down streets in early September, and locations manager Mark Fitzgerald was directed to work with police, Trustees of Reservations, ferry owner Peter Wells and town administrator Pam Dolby to come up with a plan.

In September 2016 scenes were filmed in Edgartown, including on the Chappy ferry and at Memorial Wharf. Film crews and onlookers gathered at Memorial Wharf, though streets were largely open and the ferry continued to run. Modern street signs were replaced with 1960s-era replicas, and vintage cars were parked in the lot, including a dark 1968 Oldsmobile like the one that Mr. Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge. During filming for one scene, Mr. Clarke was seen walking onto the Chappy ferry — recreated to look like it did more than 45 years ago — wearing a mint green polo shirt that he is seen wearing in the film trailer. Mr. Gaffigan was also in that scene.

Chappy ferry captain Rick Hamilton donned period clothes to portray a 1960s ferry captain. Ferry deckhand Caleb Enos also took a star turn as a deckhand in the film.

Scenes were also filmed on Chappaquiddick.

Australian actor Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy in film. — Vivian Ewing

The movie trailer also shows crowds of reporters and photographers that arrived in Edgartown. The incident made international headlines and put the Vineyard — and Chappaquiddick — on the map.

Gazette story from July 22, 1969 detailed the investigation of the accident, which Mr. Kennedy said took place when he was driving back to Edgartown after a gathering on Chappaquiddick. Mr. Kennedy said he turned right on Dike Road instead of veering left, toward the ferry. The car went off the narrow Dike Bridge and into Poucha Pond. Mr. Kennedy said he did not recall how he got out of the car, and said he was exhausted and in a state of shock and that he contacted police the next day when he fully realized what happened.

The submerged car was discovered the following morning by young men on their way back from fishing at East Beach. An Edgartown fire department dive team later found Ms. Kopechne’s body in the rear seat. The chief medical examiner determined she had died by drowning. Ms. Kopechne lived in Washington, D.C., and had worked on the presidential campaign for Mr. Kennedy’s late brother Robert F. Kennedy.

“. . . the most visible figures in the story are the men and women who have made up the not-so-small army of newsmen, reporters, and TV camera men who almost magically began to appear as soon as word of the accident and the involvement of the senator got out,” the newspaper reported.

A scene in the movie trailer shows what appears to be a recreation of the Edgartown town hall, with a yellow sign for a 1969 annual Edgartown regatta on the bulletin board. Mr. Kennedy reportedly was on the Island to sail in the regatta which took place earlier in the day on July 18. He placed ninth in his Wianno Senior, Victura.