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The Trial of the Chicago 7: everything you need to know

Who’s in it and what’s Aaron Sorkin’s star-laden new Netflix movie all about?

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin follows up Molly’s Game with his second directorial feature: The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film lands on Netflix next month and judging by its new trailer and the acting talent involved, it will be essential viewing. But who were the Chicago 7? And what was the trial about? Here’s a quick primer to the movie’s back story.

Who were the Chicago 7?
Seven anti-Vietnam War protestors – Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Londoner Alex Sharp), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) – who had the book thrown at them by the legal system when a demonstration outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago ended in violent clashes with the police. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays prosecuting lawyer Richard Schultz.

Black Panther founder Bobby Seale (the HBO Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was also charged but was severed from the case, turning the Chicago Eight into the Chicago Seven (if you want the longer version track down HBO’s 1987 TV movie Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8).

What happens in the film?
Giving away the outcome of the 1969 trial would obviously be a massive spoiler. Suffice to say, it all got pretty fiery, with the National Guard called in as demonstrators surged outside the courtroom. The trial was presided over by Judge Hoffman, who, by coincidence, shared his surname with one of the defendants, Abbie Hoffman. At one point in the trial, the judge pointed out that the young protestor was not actually his son, to which Abbie Hoffman shouted: ‘Dad, dad, have you forsaken me?!’ Expect Baron Cohen to have a tonne of fun with that moment.

The Trial of the Chicago 7
Aaron Sorkin goes to courtPhotograph: Netflix

Who else is in it?
Alongside the meaty mix of character actors, established stars and newcomers in the dock, Sorkin’s supporting cast runs deep. Michael Keaton plays US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a man who would later try to impeach George W Bush for war crimes; Frank Langella plays Judge Hoffman; Mark Rylance is ACLU lawyer William Kunstler; and William Hurt is Richard Nixon’s campaign chair John N Mitchell. No one is winning a Best Actress nomination for this one.

Who’s behind it?
It’s an Aaron Sorkin film so you know what to expect: dense but quotable dialogue, emotional uplift and a strong emphasis on social justice and the American way (the old one, not the MAGA version). Sorkin, who writes and directs here, has made his name with character studies of real-life innovators – Steve Jobs, Billy Beane and Mark Zuckerberg – and political dramas just a notch or two more heightened (and, let’s face it, enviable) than reality, including The West Wing and The American President. Here, he combines the two with a slice of ‘60s social history retold for our incendiary, polarised political moment. It promises to be dynamite viewing.

When is it out?
The Trial of the Chicago 7 launches worldwide on Netflix at 8am BST on October 16. Mark your diary. 

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