In a rural community upstate New York in 1862, farmer Abner Beech is a Northern antiwar Democrat. While his neighbors take up the Union cause in the ongoing American Civil War, Beech believes that coercion in resisting the secession of the southern states is unconstitutional, and gradually becomes more and more harassed for his views, derisively called a "Copperhead". His son, Thomas Jefferson Beech, enlists in the Union Army. Beech also arouses the ire of militant abolitionist Jee Hagadorn, whose daughter Esther (Lucy Boynton) loves Jeff.Billy Campbell as Abner Beech
Angus Macfadyen as Jee Hagadorn
Peter Fonda as Avery
Augustus Prew as Ni Hagadorn
Lucy Boynton as Esther Hagadorn
Casey Thomas Brown as Jeff Beech
François Arnaud as Warner Pitts
Josh Cruddas as Jimmy
Genevieve Steele as M'Rye Beech
The film had the working title Copperhead: The War at Home. Filmed at Kings Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick, Canada, Jason Patric initially starred, but was replaced by Billy Campbell after production commenced due to what director Maxwell called "creative differences". Copperhead was produced by Ron Maxwell and co-produced by John Houston.
Copperhead opened in limited theatrical release June 28, 2013, playing in 59 theaters and was simultaneously released in video-on-demand platforms including Amazon Video. The film ultimately grossed $171,740.
Copperhead received mostly negative reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 21% approval rating with an average rating of 4.7/10, based on 19 reviews.
Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post gave the film two out of four stars, remarking, "The story offers uncommon insights on the endlessly parsed period in history, but its execution sometimes falls short. Both the production quality and the persistent, sentimental soundtrack create a made-for-TV feel" Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times shared similar criticism, opining, "Where Tony Kushner's screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln found energetic drama in political wrangling and historical events, Copperhead crams far too much of its action into its last 30 minutes after a rambling, drawn-out set up. Painfully lugubrious, any sting Copperhead might contain for its contrarian's view of history is undone by its wayward sense of storytelling."
Christine N. Ziemba of Paste magazine wrote Copperhead a fairly mixed review, stating "Despite good performances throughout the film, the pacing of Copperhead is slow, with many long takes and establishing shots that seem a bit over-indulgent, as if to remind viewers that they’re watching an 'important, yet little-known, historical drama.'" Despite ultimately giving the movie a mixed review, John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter optimistically stated, "Theatrical prospects are meager [...], but history buffs may appreciate its earnest look at an underexplored subject on small screens."
Copperhead is Maxwell's third Civil War film, though the director does not consider it to be part of the trilogy he has planned along with Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), as he expects to conclude the series with a final film based on Jeff Shaara's The Last Full Measure.