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Manhunt, Apple TV+ review - all the President's men | reviews, news & interviews

Manhunt, Apple TV+ review - all the President's men

Manhunt, Apple TV+ review - all the President's men

Tobias Menzies and Anthony Boyle go head to head in historical crime drama

This won't end well... Hamish Linklater and Lili Taylor as Abraham and Mary Lincoln at the theatre

President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 14 April 1865, five days after General Robert E Lee’s surrender at Appomatox signalled the end of the American Civil War. The ensuing chase to catch his killer, John Wilkes Booth, is the basis of Manhunt (based on James L Swanson’s book).

Lincoln’s shooting at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC and subsequent death is the centrepiece of the opening episode, though this brutal and fateful act is not the most compelling part of the story. The “what happened?” turns out be less compelling than the who, how and why.

Those follow later, as the drama unwinds methodically across its seven episodes (though after showing the first two, Apple TV are only doling them out one at a time on Fridays). Aside from the pursuit of Booth, the fascination lies in the way Manhunt expands into a panorama of personalities, attitudes and events that sheds revealing light on the fractured state of a disunited United States, as it counts the cost of its terrible war.

Central to the progress of the drama is a powerhouse performance by Tobias Menzies as Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (pictured above). A close friend and confidant of the president, it’s Stanton who takes control of the Booth investigation as the killer flees from Washington and heads for the safety of Virginia and the Confederacy. It’s also Stanton who’s determined to uphold Lincoln’s legacy of emancipation, an end to slavery and the restoration of the Union.

Hamish Linklater looks the part as the scholarly, lawyerly Lincoln, though he does seem far too morally upright for a man who was, after all, a politician. His successor, the brutally pragmatic and morally dubious Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower), is not at all admirable but much more plausible.

For non-experts on American history, it’s fascinating to learn about such phenomena as the Confederate Secret Service, operating out of Montreal where a kind of shadow Confederacy had established itself beyond the reach of the Unionist authorities. It’s here that the sinister George Sanders (Anthony Marble) seemingly helped to mastermind the Lincoln assassination before fleeing to England. The way powerful planters and industrialists, with large vested interests in the profits of slavery, schemed to hold onto their assets is another prominent theme, with the money-grabbing banksters and speculators of Wall Street way ahead of Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko and his “greed is good” mantra.

Meanwhile, Manhunt is another giant step up the career ladder for Belfast’s own Anthony Boyle as Booth (pictured above). He’s currently also starring in Apple TV’s Masters of the Air, as airsick navigator and narrator Harry Crosby, but his portrayal of Booth could hardly be more different. A well-known actor (he was the son of British thespian Junius Brutus Booth), he seemingly revelled in the instant notoriety he gained from the assassination. Boyle renders the character as an arrogant, ruthless narcissist, whose boastfulness ultimately prompts his downfall. It’s chilling stuff.

 

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