Serviceable biofiction based on the heroic work of Elizabeth Van Lew, Union sympathizer and spy living in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., during the Civil War.
Plunging into her research-packed story in April 1861, as Virginia secedes from the Union, Chiaverini (Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, 2013, etc.) keeps up a steady pace tracing the war experiences of wealthy abolitionist Lizzie Van Lew, a confirmed spinster whose fiance died 20 years earlier. Lizzie shares the family mansion with her widowed mother, brother John, and his pro-Confederate wife, Mary. As opinions polarize and fighting begins, Lizzie decides to devote herself to helping the Yankee prisoners, bringing in food and smuggling out messages from the squalid prisons housing them. Mary’s Rebel sympathies cause a family rift, and she and John move out, leaving Lizzie freer in her activities but in greater need of political camouflage to avoid suspicion. As the long, harsh war years pass, she becomes involved with an underground network of Unionist sympathizers taking great risks to assist the Northern cause by supplying information and an escape route. Although Lizzie receives threats to herself and her property, she and her family survive the war, after which, Gen., later President, Grant rewards her with the job of postmaster of Richmond.
A capable but somewhat flavorless tribute to a brave woman.