The 1993 motion picture Sommersby was directed by Jon Amiel and stars Richard Gere, Jodie Foster, Bill Pullman and James Earl Jones. The music was created by Danny Elfman and praised for its dark themes of tragedy and romance.
Set against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, it is a retelling of the story of 16th century French peasant Martin Guerre (already filmed by Daniel Vigne in 1982 as Le Retour de Martin Guerre).
Just after the American Civil War has ended, a soldier named John "Jack" Sommersby has been presumed killed, and his wife Laurel is working his farm without him. Until his return she has been quite content and is rather happy without him, as the "pre-war" Jack was an unpleaseant and abusive husband.
One day her husband seemingly returns to her. Immediately there are those that question whether this is the real Sommersby; including his shoe-maker who find that this Sommersby now has a foot that is two sizes smaller than the template took of his "old" foot. He is now reading Homer which the previous Jack would not have. He said a man he met in prison gave it to him. Also, the returned Sommersby is no longer abusive and unkind to his wife, but the complete opposite, he is kind and loving; he explains this by saying "war changes you; makes you appreciate things". The two (Jack and Laurel) immediately rekindle their passion for each other and Laurel falls pregnant. Bill Pullman's character, who was there to assist (and was engaged to) Laurel when Jack was apparently dead, immediately suspects this "new" Sommersby as an imposter.
Sommersby begins to try and get the farm in shape by offering the locals land in exchange for money to buy Burley tobacco seeds with and make money from the land (which they have also have to work). This makes the locals question whether this man is Jack Sommersby even more so, as the "old" Jack not be so hastey to give away his beloved father's land. Jack's decision to let the now liberated slaves in on this deal rubs the town's old Confederates up the wrong way and that night a former slave (still living on Somerby's land) is brutally attacked and dropped at Sommersby's door, by men in KKK apparel (one of the men is Bill Pullman, distinguished by his wooden foot). Jack is threatened to reverse his decision to let the black people in on the deal, but refuses.
Upon taking the townspeople's money, he sets off to buy the tobacco seed claiming they'll have enough money to fix the church up. However, great suspicion and skepticism falls upon him (and by association, Laurel and their son) when he does not return at the expected time. He turns up not a minute too late and produces the seeds. All those that bought in on the deal set to work, transforming the dull and lifeless farm into a breeding ground of promise and anticipation.
Laurel then gives birth to her daughter, Rachel. They have her christened and shortly afterwards, two Federal Marshals appear in town asking for Sommersby. He is arrested for the apparent murder of a man in another town. Jack is charged with murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. A court case begins and quickly (through the actions of Laurel trying to save her husband) turns into a trial trying to establish whether this "Jack" is who he claims to be, or a look-a-like who met the "real" Sommersby whilst in prison for desertion.
Laurel and Jack's lawyer agree to try and prove that this Jack Sommersby is in fact Horace Townsend, and is therefore an imposter and not the man who left Laurel to fight in the war. Pullman's character devises the plan, but in exchange for Laurel being promised to him upon "Sommersby's" detention in prison. This plan would ensure her husband (or supposed husband) does not hang for murder (although he would still be imprisoned for several years for fraud and desertion). Sommersby fires his lawyer and sets about re-establishing himself as the "real" Sommersby.
Several witnesses are brought up to discredit this Sommersby as a fraud, and is in fact one Horace Townsend, an English teacher from Virginia. One witness says that the man currently posing as Jack defrauded his township of several thousands dollars after claiming he wanted to help improve the school house there. Sommersby quickly dismisses the man's testimony by claiming he was one of the KKK members that attacked the black man and threatened Sommersby. Jack also points out that Pullman's character was also one of the men, and that this whole thing is a set-up to try and rob the liberated slaves of their new property. When the judge (who is black, played by James Earl Jones) confronts him on this charge, the man bursts out "When the yankees have all gone you'll be back in the field where you belong!". The judge silences him and sentences him to 30 days in the county jail, raised to 60 days upon the man's protest.
As the drama unfolds, Jack asks Laurel to give the reason she knows he is not the "real" Jack Sommersby; she replies (after some berating) "...because I never loved him the way I love you!" With this her charade ends and she says that she believes the Jack before her to be her real husband. The judge calls Jack to his bench. He asks him whether he is sure he wishes to be tried as Jack Sommersby even if it would mean he'd hang. Jack glances at the black land-owners who have Jack's promise to his land, and then he glances at his wife and daughter and says that he wants to be tried as John "Jack" Sommersby.
Jack is found guilty of murder and is sentenced to death. In prison awaiting death, he is asked to be truthful by Laurel and to answer once and for all "Are you John Sommersby?". Laurel mentions the book on Homer's works that he holds. Jack tells her the story of how he met a man who looked like him whilst in a prison and how he gave him this book. They travelled together until Townsend died. He claims that he buried him under a pile of rocks on a hill top in Virginia. Laurel asks: "Don't you mean you buried John Sommersby?" to which Jack replies, "I mean I buried Horace Townsend."
Just then the jailers enter to transport Jack to the gallows. He asks Laurel to be amongst the crowds as he cannot "hang alone". She neither agrees or disagrees to do this for him. As Jack Sommersby is fastened up ready to hang, a suspenseful moment arises where Laurel makes her way to the front of the crowd. Jack calls for her, claiming to the executioner that he "isn't ready". As the hood is about to be put over his head. She then calls back and the two see each other. The hood is pulled over and a trap door can be heard opening.
The closing scenes show Laurel walking up a hill with flowers. She then kneels by the grave of "Jack Sommersby" and lays the flowers down for him. We then cut to work being carried out on the steeple of the town church.
The film got a 57 % on Rotten Tomatoes, marking it a close "Rotten". Critics praised the acting of the two leads Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, but panned the vague redemption of the imposter.