Manhunt – The Pursuit of the Nation’s First Presidential Assassin

SERIES REVIEW – Manhunt on Apple TV+ feels like it was tailor-made for aficionados of historical intrigue. It delves deep into a pivotal moment that serves as fertile ground for drama: the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln’s (portrayed by Hamish Linklater) assassination. The narrative centers around Tobias Menzies in the role of a dedicated cabinet member, who bears the dual burdens of solving a murder mystery and steering the nation’s reconstruction. Anthony Boyle shines again, following his roles in “The Plot Against America” and “Masters of the Air,” this time embodying the real-life actor-turned-assassin, John Wilkes Booth. And what would this concoction be without a dash of Laura Marling’s musical genius? It’s as if they had me in mind during its creation!


Manhunt is a rollercoaster of quality, with moments that capture the sheer brilliance and heart-pounding excitement of historical dramas, as well as segments that might induce a yawn or two, due to their soporific dullness. One critique of the Apple TV+ series is its ambitious attempt to cram in as many historical details as possible. Instead of focusing on the compelling dynamic between its lead characters, Menzies and Boyle, it occasionally meanders through trivial historical footnotes, distracting from the initially promised thrilling narrative. The series truly comes into its own when the characters portrayed by Tobias Menzies and Anthony Boyle take the reins; however, its greatest flaw lies in not lingering on these charismatic figures long enough.



The Resolute Secretary of War


Brought to life by Monica Beletsky, and drawing from James L. Swanson’s acclaimed, factual tome, Manhunt narrates the mission of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as he seeks the murderers of the president. Much like the book, the series tracks Stanton’s quest, which extends far beyond merely hunting down John Wilkes Booth. The inaugural episode unveils that Lincoln’s assassination was but one of several planned attacks that night. Stanton is tasked with unraveling the conspiracy’s depths: How far do its roots extend? Are the dark forces of the Confederacy undermining the Union, victorious in the Civil War?

If the premise seems like a masterful blend of the thrill of crime-solving and the shadowy yet relevant chapters of history, that’s because Manhunt offers precisely that. The initial episodes are absolute gems, thanks primarily to the exceptional performances of the lead actors.



An Asthmatic Hero and a Fierce Anti-hero


Tobias Menzies’s Edwin Stanton embodies contradiction: an asthmatic champion burning for Lincoln’s vision of a “more equal” union, yet he’s far from perfect. His intensity often rubs those around him the wrong way, including his wife (Anne Dudek), who wishes he would pause for a moment to mourn the manifold losses they’ve endured. (Under normal circumstances, I’d side with Mrs. Stanton, but considering her husband is preoccupied with tracking down Lincoln’s assassins, safeguarding African American emancipation, and uncovering a vast conspiracy… Well, maybe his priorities are in order.) Stanton’s steadfast commitment and platonic love for Lincoln render him a truly heroic historical figure.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find John Wilkes Booth, portrayed by Anthony Boyle. Boyle infuses the notorious presidential assassin with a devilish charm and unbridled ego. He convincingly portrays a man adored by women for his “action roles” in the theater and capable of manipulating weaker men into servitude. However, beneath this magnetic charisma lies the insecure heart of a loser, drawn to the Confederacy’s ideology due to his own grievances. We learn that Booth, known as a handsome supporting actor, envied his brother, a Union loyalist and the nation’s favorite leading man. He viewed his brother’s success, the Union’s victory, and the emancipation of slaves as personal affronts. Booth envisioned himself being hailed as a deity in the Confederate capital of Richmond, oblivious to the fact that the city lay in ruins and that he would be remembered as a villain.



Two Opposing Forces, Completing the Narrative


Stanton and Booth are undoubtedly the series’ most vividly toxic characters, thanks in part to how they’re written as perfect opposites, illustrating that today’s moral and political battles mirror those of the past. Edwin Stanton, not only a fervent abolitionist but also a man whose strategy as Secretary of War relied on technology, establishing a telegraph office to monitor the entire country in an analogue era. He embodies, so to speak, “the future liberals want.” Booth, conversely, encompasses everything from chauvinism to racism, topped with a veneer of old-school charisma. At times, he seems to echo modern alt-right figures.

Most importantly, the series should focus on Stanton and Booth because Tobias Menzies and Anthony Boyle are simply that good. Unfortunately, Beletsky too often shifts away from Stanton and Booth to follow a convoluted investigation in Montreal, flashbacks of Abe Lincoln worrying over his dying son, and a historically inaccurate subplot placing key witness Mary Simms (Lovie Simone) in Dr. Samuel Mudd’s (Matt Walsh) clutches during the titular manhunt. (Simms had been Mudd’s slave but had long since left by the time John Wilkes Booth came around.)

Manhunt is commendable, but its scattered focus makes it a slog at times. However, I’m confident that Manhunt will eventually be remembered fondly. It’s the show that firmly proves Anthony Boyle is a supernova star on the rise. His range is matched only by the power of his movie star magnetism. John Wilkes Booth would be green with envy.”

-Herpai Gergely (BadSector)-




Direction - 6.4
Actors - 7.2
Story - 6.8
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 7.2
Ambience - 6.4



Manhunt on Apple TV+ stands as a solid historical series that simultaneously hosts the excitement of historical dramas and those moments that might just make you yawn or doze off in front of the screen due to numerous dull and unnecessary side plots. Tobias Menzies and Anthony Boyle's brilliant performances carry the show, while they unveil one of the most dramatic periods of American history in a convincingly compelling manner. Although the series often loses its thread, this role could very well establish Anthony Boyle's reputation, showcasing his outstanding talent as he embodies the 19th-century assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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