Andersonville

Directed by John Frankenheimer, June 2004

Andersonville, the 1996 Turner Pictures made-for-TV film, gives the notorious Confederate prison in Georgia a gritty treatment not seen in previous cinematic versions. Although this four-hour 2004 film, released on DVD in 2004, is beset by its share of problems, it captures the well-known despair endured by all Civil War prisoners of war.

The story centers on a group of Massachusetts soldiers who are captured while fighting in Virginia in 1864 and sent to the 261⁄2-acre stockade, originally built for 10,000 inmates but eventually home to nearly 33,000. The men struggle to survive in deplorable conditions: no food, barbarous fellow prisoners as well as “monstrous” jailors and a hot-tempered, tyrannical commandant.

The main difficulty with the film is that producer-writer David W. Rintels compresses nearly all the significant Andersonville events into a time frame of just a few weeks. The truncation is awkward, at times drawing attention to seemingly overlapping events that do not make sense either logically or historically. The film virtually ignores the prison’s systemic problems, creating the impression that all of Andersonville’s horrors were caused by Heinrich H. Wirz and the Confederate jailors.

Director John Frankenheimer waits more than two hours before trying to capture the pathos of this miserable period with some long, wandering camera shots. Introducing one or two such views earlier might have strengthened the film.

 

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here