A film about the “Chappaquiddick” incident is a gutsy move by any definition. The movie, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, tells the story of a July 18, 1969, incident in which Senator Teddy Kennedy, driving under the influence of alcohol in the company of a Young Woman named Mary Joe Kopechne, drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts into a tidal channel. Kennedy swam free and left Kopechne to drown by inches, trapped in an air pocket inside the submerged car. Kennedy and his aides exercised epic damage control, resulting in his getting a suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident leading to an injury.

Anyone who was not wealthy, powerful or a Kennedy would have gone to jail.

Reviewers are divided over the movie

The initial reviews, according to Hollywood in Toto, vary according to the point of view of the critic. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, a liberal, is pretty sure that the movie depicts Kennedy as having pretty much killed Kopechne in order to save his skin. The Wrap disagrees while the Hollywood Reporter suggests that the film is kind of dull.

The American Thinker, a right leaning website, agrees with Variety that the movie tells the truth about Chappaquiddick in that it depicts Kennedy as thinking only about himself and his political career and not of the young woman he left to die. The article suggests that a movie that depicted the last surviving Kennedy brother as a monster heralds the fading power of that family, a dominant force in American politics for the last four decades of the 20th Century.

The myth of the ‘Lion of the Senate’

Teddy Kennedy did not escape entirely unscathed from his actions on Chappaquiddick, When the incident occurred, barely a year had passed since his brother Bobby had become the second Kennedy murdered at the hands of an assassin. The younger brother was being groomed to become the next president, perhaps as early as 1972, to restore Camelot and bring about a new progressive era.

Chappaquiddick derailed that plan. When Teddy Kennedy ran for president at last in 1980, he was put away by then President Jimmy Carter who in turn was defeated by Ronald Reagan.

Having failed a Kennedy restoration, the mythmakers tried to concoct another one, transforming the aging libertine as the “Lion of the Senate,” championing the old liberal values in the face of Reagan, Bush, that triangulator, Bill Clinton, and the second Bush.

In fact, Teddy Kennedy was a hack, more famous for creating scandal than in passing legislation. Yet he was reelected term after term until brain cancer called him home in August 2009. It was a sad end to the man whose singular mistake all those years before prevented him from achieving the heights of power.