Knight moves

BBC History Magazine - - Tv & Radio -

Free State of Jones DVD ( Stu­dio­canal, £19.99)

In 1861, Mis­sis­sippi farmer New­ton Knight en­listed in the Con­fed­er­ate army. Noth­ing un­usual there, ex­cept that, in 1862, he went awol. For much of the rest of the Amer­i­can Civil War, Knight led a com­pany of men that bore his name, a com­pany that fought skir­mishes with the south­ern army, and which al­legedly de­clared Jones County, Mis­sis­sippi to be in­de­pen­dent from the Con­fed­er­acy.

But what mo­ti­vated Knight? Ac­cord­ing to the ver­sion of his life put for­ward in this over­long but im­pres­sively staged biopic, he be­came in­creas­ingly un­happy at the way he and his fel­low sub­sis­tence farm­ers were treated. Not only were they ex­pected to fight at the front, but what lit­tle they did own was all too likely to be con­fis­cated by the au­thor­i­ties. Thus is Knight – played by the charis­matic Matthew McConaughey – politi­cised and be­gins to sus­pect he has more in com­mon with slaves than his own masters. As to whether that’s how things re­ally panned out, it’s worth not­ing this is a main­stream movie so ex­pect a cer­tain amount of dra­matic in­ven­tion. Nev­er­the­less, in telling a story that was sup­pressed for many years, it also serves as a re­minder of the nu­ances that can get lost in the march of his­tory.

Matthew McConaughey finds his po­lit­i­cal side in Free State of Jones

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