The Civil War was a bloody piece of American history, and a number of films have used it as a setting over the years. While some of the best-known battles of the Civil War have graced the silver screen, there are still countless stories from the war that have never found their way in front of the camera.
One such story is the tale of Newton Knight, a former Confederate soldier who is the subject of the upcoming Free State of Jones. The first trailer for this film has been released, showing Matthew McConaughey as the deserter who led a small community to secede from the Confederacy and declare their lands to be an independent state.
Based on a true story, Free State of Jones follows Knight as he realizes the futility of the war during the battle of Corinth in 1862. Deserting from the army, he trains his family to resist Confederate tax collectors and persuades other small farmers to stand with him. Joining with a group of escaped slaves, the men lead an uprising in Jones County, Mississippi to drive the Confederates from their land. The trailer gives the story something of a Braveheart feel, showcasing the action of the rebellion and showing how poor farmers can stand up to the oppression of the rich landowners who control the army in the area.
Though the trailer is action heavy, it does show part of Knight’s reasoning for leaving the army in the aftermath of Corinth and the establishment of the Free State of Jones within the state of Mississippi. It also shows Knight interacting with a former slave who helps him to find the escaped slave community; this woman, Rachel, eventually marries Knight. The two didn’t marry until the 1870s, so it remains to be seen whether their romance will be featured heavily in the film or if artistic liberties will be taken with their story.
It’s hard to judge a film by its trailer, since things can play out much differently on the big screen than they do in a short trailer. The film appears solid in this first glimpse, though, and it’s certainly in capable hands. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) also wrote and produced the film, helping to ensure that he tells just the story he wishes to tell. It’s a formula that worked well for him in Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, as well as The Hunger Games to a lesser extent (he wrote and directed the film, but did not produce.)
Many depictions of Newt Knight’s story have portrayed him as essentially being an American version of Robin Hood. The comparison is fitting, since Knight was known for standing up for the poor farmers in his community against the rich landowners who avoided army service and made money off of the hard work of slaves and poor locals. The film will likely play up this image, possibly giving America its own Braveheart and a new folk hero that many outside of Jones County may not have known existed.
Free State of Jones hits theaters on May 11, 2016.
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