Could it be a movie?: Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy

(Image via civilwarlibrarian.blogspot.com)
(Image via civilwarlibrarian.blogspot.com)

Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey by Peter Carlson is a fantastic non-fiction read about two New York Tribune reporters, Junius Browne and Albert Richardson, and their time spent hunting down stories in the Confederate states during the American civil war.

As soon as I read the synopsis for this book I knew that it had the makings for a great period film. The two central personalities of the story work in the field of journalism, which is a popular profession in the world of Hollywood movie characters. Their story includes adventure, danger, politics and war. Their path leads from successful careers and elevated reputations to the much less pleasurable experiences of being captured by the enemy and facing the harsh realities of prison.

While I believe that the scope of Carlson’s book is a bit too large to pack into a two hour film, I would love to see a part of this story adapted to the screen. Carlson delves into the backgrounds of these men as journalists, describing their early careers and their pre-capture assignments during the war before delving into the heart of the story. If included at all in a film, this background would need to be told briefly, with the majority of the run-time spent on the prison-escape journey.

Junius Browne (via philly.com)
Junius Browne (via philly.com)

Junius and Albert’s Adventures diverge from what we’re used to seeing in civil war-set films and television. I can’t think of a single film or series* centered on the experience of prisoners on either side of the war. (*Excluding documentaries) In addition to bringing to life this less-often-discussed aspect of the war, a film based on this book would easily capture the audience through the daring story of Junius and Albert’s escape, and the diverse array of people who helped them along the way. While reading the book, I found that the friendship between the two reporters and their encounters with others really brought home the fact that real people – human beings, no different than you and I – lived through this insane period of American history.

Whenever I make one of these “Could it be a movie?” posts, I like to give thought to who I’d cast in the central roles. Junius Browne and Albert Richardson are hard to pin-point modern actors to. Albert is a fearless, persistent reporter with a talent for making fast friends everywhere he goes, a great skill to have when your job involves interviewing people every day. Junius is a less traditional reporter: quiet, observant, incredibly well-read and much more likely to observe an event from afar than to get into the middle of it to get the story. Two actors whose names spring to mind off of the top of my head are Corey Stoll for Albert and Tobey Maguire for Junius. I’ve never been a huge fan of Maguire but I liked him in Pleasantville and in last year’s The Great Gatsby. I think he could pull off Junius’ bookish, observant persona quite well.* Corey Stoll is an actor I became a fan of after his brilliant portrayal of Hemingway in Woody Allen’s time-hopping tale Midnight in Paris. A very talented man who could easily take on the confident, adventurous character of Albert.

*Ironically, just after I wrote this post I discovered that Maguire and his producing partner have acquired the film rights to Carlson’s book! Tobey, if you’re reading this (highly doubtful, haha) – get yourself and Corey Stoll cast, please!

Albert Richardson (via Northern Illinois University Library)
Albert Richardson (via Northern Illinois University Library)

Junius and Albert’s story is a captivating one, but Carlson also provides potential plot lines for about a million other films in the small details that he includes about the people that the two reporters meet. In one instance, Carlson makes mention of Dan Sickles, a congressman who was the first person to be found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in a murder trial, and then went on to become a general in the Union army after his acquittal.

Carlson doesn’t beat the reader over the head with a barrage of facts about troop movements or aim to provide a comprehensive portrait of the war, instead focusing on his two protagonists and dropping interesting side-plots in now and then. This makes the book accessible to those who are already well-versed in this era of American history (in other words, those who have studied enough to know those details already), as well as those who are intimidated by thick, heavy-in-weight and heavy-on-detail history books. This not only makes the book highly enjoyable to read, but also makes it a goldmine for movie-worthy civil war stories. I would recommend this book for history buffs and non fiction-fearing readers alike. It’s a truly wonderful read, and I hope a great film is made from it.

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