This historical drama film, adapted from the Tony Award-winning play of the same name, follows Lyndon B. Johnson's journey from his unexpected ascendancy to president in 1963 to his 1964 reelection.

In the hours following Kennedy's assassination, Johnson frets that he will be seen only as an "accidental president," and he gives a somber speech vowing to continue Kennedy's work, including the passage of his civil rights bill. Knowing that Johnson needs to secure the nomination over the likes of Bobby Kennedy, Senator Richard Russell questions Johnson about the Civil Rights bill; Johnson assures him that he was merely pacifying the Democrats. He then tells Martin Luther King Jr. that he needs his help in pushing the bill through, however, and an "obsessed" J. Edgar Hoover monitors King's conversations as he discusses his uncertainty about Johnson's intentions. Russell assures a concerned Strom Thurmond that Johnson will "gut" the bill before signing it, stating that the Democrats must do their part to ensure his reelection. Elsewhere, Johnson confides in his longtime aide Walter Jenkins about how "everyone wants power." Later, Johnson takes Senator Hubert Humphrey for a surprising ride in his amphibious car as Humphrey urges him not to betray King and the others. Johnson appoints Humphrey "floor manager" of the civil rights bill and suggests that he will consider him as his running mate the following year.

Johnson tells King about his intentions for a "war on poverty," but King shrewdly reminds Johnson that the bill must not be altered or weakened. Johnson enlists King to lobby for the bill's release from committee, though Stokely Carmichael and other members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party are more concerned with their plans for the "Freedom Summer," in which young volunteers will travel to the segregated South to register black voters. Johnson is merely amused by Hoover's discovery of King's extramarital affairs; as protestors begin clashing with police, senators argue over the bill and its perceived violations of states' rights regarding public spaces and businesses. A frustrated Russell declares his intentions to filibuster the bill for as long as necessary, and Johnson grows angry at King for not "controlling his people" and preventing the riots in the South. He then decides to "sneak the bill through" via a subtle legal maneuver, further outraging Russell. Johnson makes it clear that he will oppose his longtime friend as aggressively as he must to pass the bill. He cites his past as a schoolteacher in discussing his strong hatred of racism, but the filibuster drags on for weeks as Russell suggests "resettling" Southern black people. An exasperated King tells Humphrey that definitive action must be taken.

Senator Everett Dirksen tries to compromise with Johnson on altering the bill, while at the same time Johnson faces difficult decisions about escalating or perhaps ending America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Johnson appeals to individual senators personally and finally secures the necessary 67 votes, and he signs the bill into law on July 2, 1964. King is pleased, though Johnson realizes that he has significantly damaged the South's view of the Democratic Party. Three civil rights workers -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – then go missing in Mississippi, and though the governor is sure that it is a mere stunt, Johnson manipulates Hoover into sending the FBI to investigate the matter. King, sure that the three are dead, opts to send MFDP delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention to protest the issue, though Roy Wilkins suggests that doing so is "mass suicide" for the young volunteers. The three bodies are soon found, and Thurmond defiantly changes parties as Johnson learns of a "potential" enemy sighting and torpedo attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. Despite Humphrey's strong protests, Johnson decides to retaliate without concrete information, determined to prevent his nemesis Barry Goldwater's election.

King speaks at Chaney's funeral, though the attendees angrily denounce his statements about non-violence and forgiveness, and protesters soon gather outside the DNC in Atlantic City. Jenkins comforts Lady Bird when Johnson lashes out at her, and she acknowledges her awareness of his dalliances with other women as she affirms her undying loyalty to her husband. Johnson panics when activist Fannie Lou Hamer appears on television to describe her horrible treatment by Southern police during her voter-registration work, and he interrupts the broadcast for an aimless press conference. He demand all of Hoover's information on King and laments that Bobby Kennedy will surely betray him, though Russell denounces his "spoiled child" attitude. Humphrey informs Johnson that King will not be swayed, and a desperate Johnson contacts labor leader Walter Reuther and orders him to "fix" the problem. Johnson confides in surrogate son Jenkins that he feels betrayed by all of his would-be allies, while elsewhere Reuther bluntly tells King to compromise with the MFDP or risk losing all of his funding.

King reluctantly agrees to Humphrey's offer of two delegates at the convention – one white and one black – and tells an angered Bob Moses that Johnson's interest in civil rights appears genuine. Many Mississippi and Alabama delegates walk out in protest, feeling that the MFDP – unregistered because of the lack of voting rights laws – have no place there; Johnson passionately appeals to their decency as Christians, ordering them to "decide who they are." Despondent, he tells Lady Bird that he wishes to resign, but she encourages him, reminding him that he has many supporters. He soon accepts the party's official nomination for the 1964 race with Humphrey as his running mate. Goldwater launches an aggressive smear campaign, maligning Johnson's views on race and alleged corruption. Despite Humphrey's doubts, Johnson "hits back" with a grim political ad containing controversial end-of-the-world imagery. King denounces Goldwater in an effort to secure the black vote for Johnson, but Johnson is then stunned to learn that Jenkins has been arrested for "disorderly conduct" with another man at a YMCA. Hoover hesitantly suggests that Johnson missed "certain signs" about his aide, and Johnson refuses to publicly defend him, though Lady Bird declares that she will not abandon their friend.

King receives the Nobel Peace Prize, further enraging Hoover, and he sends an anonymous letter to King denouncing his "fraudulent" behavior and suggesting that he should end his own life. Johnson manages to win over Louisiana voters with his firm statements about "the new law of the land." On Election Night, Johnson wins with 486 electoral votes and a record-setting number of popular votes. Russell offers his formal congratulations, noting that Georgia voted Republican for the first time ever, and a contented King declares his intentions for a new campaign alongside Johnson. Johnson steps away from his victory party, ruminating on how all of his fair-weather friends are merely waiting for him to show weakness. The film concludes by acknowledging his series of "Great Society" anti-poverty programs and the strong public opposition to his actions in Vietnam. King was assassinated in 1968 and Johnson opted not to run for a second term and died of a heart attack in 1973.


  • DATE: 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 2:12:00
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 128565
  • GENRE: Drama, historical
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Drama, historical
  • SERIES RUN: HBO - TV, 2016


  • Jay Roach … Executive Producer, Director
  • Robert Schenkkan … Executive Producer, Writer
  • Bryan Cranston … Executive Producer
  • Justin Falvey … Executive Producer
  • Darryl Frank … Executive Producer
  • Steven Spielberg … Executive Producer
  • James Degus … Co-Executive Producer
  • Michelle Graham … Co-Executive Producer
  • Scott Ferguson … Producer
  • Jeffrey Richards … Producer
  • Denise Woodgerd … Dailies Producer
  • Marisa Clayton-Rivera … Digital Intermediate Producer
  • James Newton Howard … Music by
  • Philharmonic Orchestra … Symphony Orchestra
  • Bryan Cranston … Cast, Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Anthony Mackie … Cast, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Melissa Leo … Cast, Lady Bird Johnson
  • Bradley Whitford … Cast, Senator Hubert Humphrey
  • Stephen Root … Cast, J. Edgar Hoover
  • Todd Weeks … Cast, Walter Jenkins
  • Aisha Hinds … Cast, Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Ken Jenkins … Cast, "Judge" Smith
  • Joe Morton … Cast, Roy Wilkins
  • Ray Wise … Cast, Senator Everett Dirksen
  • Frank Langella … Cast, Senator Richard Russell
  • Dohn Norwood … Cast, Ralph Abernathy
  • Mo McRae … Cast, Stokely Carmichael
  • Marque Richardson … Cast, Bob Moses
  • Eric Pumphrey … Cast, David Dennis
  • Tim True … Cast, Deke Deloach
  • Bo Foxworth … Cast, Robert McNamara
  • Jeff Doucette … Cast, Senator Jim Eastland
  • Hilary Ward … Cast, Coretta King
  • Spencer Garrett … Cast, Walter Reuther
  • Randy Oglesby … Cast, Senator Strom Thurmond
  • Ned Van Zandt … Cast, Senator Fulbright
  • Joe O'Connor … Cast, Senator Byrd
  • Bruce Nozick … Cast, Stanley Levison
  • Samantha Bogach … Cast, Luci Johnson
  • Hal Landon Jr. … Cast, Speaker John McCormack
  • Dan Desmond … Cast, Rep. Bill McCulloch
  • Stoney Westmoreland … Cast, Rep. James Corman
  • Matthew Glave … Cast, Governor Sanders
  • Toby Huss … Cast, Governor Johnson
  • A.J. Helfet … Cast, Mickey Schwerner
  • Corby Sullivan … Cast, Deputy Price
  • Regi Davis … Cast, Aaron Henry
  • Gregory Marcel … Cast, Edwin King
  • Marvel Taylor … Cast, Gerri Whittington
  • Whylip Lee … Cast, Yoichi Okamoto
  • Kerry Hoyt … Cast, Clerk of the House
  • Jeff Witzke … Cast, TV Announcer
  • Dan Sachoff … Cast, TV Announcer
  • Dale E. Turner … Cast, Choir Leader
  • Shelea Frazier … Cast, Funeral Choir Soloist
  • Matt Lander … Cast, Party Aide
  • Dereau K. Farrar … Cast, Protest Singer
  • Bill Timoney … Cast, Adviser
  • Zachary Barton … Cast, Secretary
  • Kevin Brief … Cast, New Orleans Announcer
  • Ted Jonas … Cast, Secret Service Agent
  • Steven H. Bozajian … Cast, JFK Aide
  • Harvey Jacob Alperin … Cast, Tailor
  • Kevin Dixon … Cast, Shoe Shine Man
  • Keith Barber … Cast, Older Man
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