The Trial of the Chicago 7

Over a particularly cold and grey post-Christmas week I was recommended this film. It’s set in Chicago during 1968 and 9 and set against the backdrop of a Presidential election and the explosive protests against the Vietnam War. It tells the story of protesters who took part in the riots and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, all of whom were subsequently arrested and charged as a group with various offences including conspiracy to incite riot, by the new incoming Nixon administration. Most of the film follows the infamous trial of the 7 with flashbacks to the riots and exploring the relationships of those on trial, their lawyer, friends, families and their accusers. It boasts an impressive and strong cast including Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Mark Rylance amongst others, and directed by Aaron Sorkin.

I remember seeing footage of the riots on our news bulletins back in ’68 but didn’t know about the trial of these men so decided to it was one to watch. I was not disappointed. Despite the close confines of many of the scenes and the sometimes outrageous behaviour in court – by both the accused, the accusers and Judge, I found it compelling, gripping and informative – although you do have to remember this is a dramatization not a documentary, and forgive the occasional slightly doggy American accent from one or two of the cast. A great performance by Frank Langella as Judge Hoffman, who manages to appear evil and incompetent in equal measure, and left me at times incredulous that this person had ever been thought a suitable candidate to preside over a courtroom. Mark Rylance morphs brilliantly into William Kunstler the 7’s defence lawyer, and for me, gives a totally believable performance and perfect foil against the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the judge.

I was left feeling both how was a trial like this ever allowed to be brought to court and continue, and sometimes how little life has changed,  but this was a politically motivated trial where only one outcome was wanted and has subsequently become one of the most notorious in American history. I highly recommend it.

Annette Spratley