Manhunt stars (l-r) Lily Taylor as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tobias Menzies as Edwin Stanton

Most viewers with even a passing interest in American history can name the man who assasinated US president Abraham Lincoln. But did you know the rest of that story?

Manhunt, which starts streaming Friday March 15 on AppleTV+, is a seven-part, true crime limited series about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. He is the assassin who shot Lincoln is a packed theatre, leapted onto the stage and broke his leg, stood and made a declaration — and escaped!

How long it took to capture the disgruntled actor is part of this compelling story which was inspired by the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award-winning book, “Manhunt,” by author James L. Swanson. The series tag line, “The assassination was only the beginning,” is exactly right.

In what is really a secondary role, Lincoln is ably played by Hamish Linklater (Legion, Fargo) with Lily Taylor (Six Feet Under, Perry Mason) guesting as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. That portrayal is generally much more sympathetic then past pop culture looks at Mary Todd, often seen as the First Lady of distress. Irish Actor Anthony Boyle (Masters of the Air) captures the fanatical madness that must have been Booth’s murderous state, while adding just enough ego and charm to pull off and extend this outrageous getaway.

Taylor (left), enjoying the show with Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln

The miniseries, however, is driven by Tobias Menzies (Prince Phillip in The Crown, Outlander) as Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. By allowing the Lincolns to attend a theatrical performance in, well, until recently perhaps, the most divisive period of American history, Stanton carries the full weight of the responsibility for Lincoln’s death. That it takes, incredibly, nearly two weeks to bring Booth to justice, tightens the high collar around Stanton’s neck. (If you are into conspiracy theories, there are those who suggest Stanton might have been complicit in Lincoln’s demise; this miniseries does not.)

Menzies is part Sherlock Holmes, part Dirty Harry in the role. His grief at losing a friend as well as the man who saved America in such a white hot crisis point is not always contained by the job at hand, a balancing act that brings out the best in the actor.


The miniseries, which is created by showrunner and executive producer Monica Beletsky and directed by Carl Franklin, does a wonderful job creating the muddy, horse-drawn world of America in the 1860s. The producers studied their history and took pains to make it look timely and authentic. Having said that, there are dashes of style in the dialogue that seem to place it in a more modern context, or at least that allow for a vernacular approach relatable for today’s audiences.

As was pointed out by one reporter at the Television Critics Association panel on Manhunt in February, these noble figures as often painted “with a very human brush.” One example: when vice-president Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower) is about to be sworn in after the assasination, the politician suggests to Stanton that he will be the first to call him President.

“Touch the bible first, Andy,” Stanton dryly replies.

“I think what we’re all trying to do with this show,” Menzies said at the press conference, “was to bring this story, which is obviously, a huge part of this country’s history, and bring it as intimately alive as we could.” As Menzies pointed out, “These people knew each other very well, and they were then thrown into a situation which they could not have imagined.”

There are some surprising casting choices in Manhunt. Comedian Patton Oswalt looks right at home in a full beard as Lafayette Baker, a Civil War spy who plays a key role in Booth’s eventual capture.

Not all of the cast members, including Boyle, were that acquainted with the historical figures before production began in 2022.

“I grew up in Ireland,” Boyle told reporters, “and my introduction to John Wilkes Booth was through an episode of The Simpsons where Bart plays John Wilkes Booth, and he comes out, and Millhouse is Lincoln, and he says, “Hasta la vista, baby!” So that was my introduction to Booth.”

Fortunately, Boyle did his homework, studying letters Booth had written that show that the stage actor descended into a violent and racist personality.

“The prep for me is always the same, particularly playing real people. You want to get as close to it as possible.” That holds true whether Boyle is playing a genuine war hero, as he does in Masters of the Air, or in Manhunt, where, as he bluntly says, he is playing “an asshole.”

“I hate that guy,” said Boyle, “but Booth doesn’t think he’s an asshole. Booth thinks he’s a hero. So, in order for me to serve the project that Monica wrote so beautifully, to serve the text, to serve the piece, I have to think that I’m the hero in this, you know?”

Shot largely in Savannah, Georgia, Manhunt streams two episodes March 15 with each following episode premiering weekly after that, exclusively on AppleTV+.

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