Kennedy’s bridge to disaster by Richard Jones


A look at Chappaquiddick (M)

ChappaTeddy was perhaps the least likely of the Kennedy brothers to reach the highest office.

Not just because he was the youngest of the four, but chiefly because he didn’t have the full backing and support of the family patriarch, Joe Kennedy senior.

Joe was right behind Jack and Bobby as they climbed their respective ladders yet he was always a bit off kilter with Teddy.

And there was one incident which stopped Teddy’s ambition and impetus to follow Jack into the presidential Oval office dead in its tracks.

That was the night where Teddy drove his car, with campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne by his side, off the Dike Bridge on Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island and into a deep pond.

There were no guardrails or posts on the bridge, the car flipped over as it became airborne and then became submerged with only the four wheels visible above the surface.

Kennedy (Australian actor Jason Clarke) repeatedly dived down in futile attempts to free Mary Jo (Kate Mara) he said later, but he did not report the drowning incident to police or the sheriff’s office for another nine hours.

So how do script writers piece together a plausible movie based on events which happened in July, 1969.

Well, the transcripts of the inquest hand them their most valuable source plus they conducted interviews with some of the people who had lived on the island close to half-a-century ago.

As he’d died just four months after Chappaquiddick Joe Kennedy snr. clearly wasn’t available although director John Curran played a master stroke casting veteran Bruce Dern in the role.

Joe’s crippled by a stroke and virtually speechless, but we can tell he’s outraged and full of contempt – even raising the strength from his wheelchair to slap Teddy across the face – when he hears what his ‘weakest’ son has done.

It had been a traumatic decade for Joe. Jack was assassinated in 1963 and former US attorney-general Bobby had also been killed a year before Chappaquiddick: 1968.

So who was Mary Jo? Well she was a promising political strategist who had worked on Bobby’s presidential campaign the previous year and was working on Teddy’s Senate re-election strategies.

She’d worked on a re-election campaign for the New York Mayor yet wasn’t convinced she should join the Teddy team with a presidential bid in the offing. Mary Jo, 28, was intent on moving on from working with political teams.

Teddy had made it clear to family cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), the head of his re-election team, he wanted Mary Jo at the summer party on the island.

Both a tad under the weather they drive off around midnight, stop for a moonlight chat and then speed off towards the hump-backed Dike Bridge.

There doesn’t seem to have been a romantic dalliance although Teddy was certainly trying.

After the events on Chappaquiddick become public and following his tearful confession to Dad Joe the Kennedy ‘Praetorian Guard’ steps in.

Headed by Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) these are the trusted band of advisers, lawyers and spin doctors who have served the family through presidential campaigns for Jack and Bobby.

Unfortunately for them Teddy had released a carefully crafted press release to the chief of police on Chappaquiddick Island. And even though Gargan hastily telephones the officer to ask him to hold onto it for a while the policeman had already addressed the press, reading out Teddy’s own words.

It’s a very sad, strange tale with the underpinning message of how dynastic power and influence can corrupt and taint a true story.

The Teddy and Mary Jo incident happened the same week as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.

But the Chappaquiddick drowning wasn’t going to disappear so after the press moonwalk hype had dissipated it was back to Teddy.

Amazingly Teddy Kennedy continued on as a Democrats Senator for Massachusetts straight after Chappaquiddick to reach almost 47 unbroken years in office (1962-2009) and in 2008 was an influential supporter of Barrack Obama.

He died of a brain tumour in 2009 aged 77.



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