Lincoln is the highly anticipated movie from Steven Spielberg that has had critics and fans watering at the mouth to see inside the life of the 16th President of the United States. Standing in office from 1861 till his assassination in 1865 Lincoln was set to leave his mark on American history as he chartered the waters of both the Civil War and his penultimate mark left with the abolition of slavery.
Our story starts as Lincoln is in the field of war addressing a number of young soldiers both black and white at the front of the Civil war amongst the dark, the rain and the mud. As the young soldiers gush forth with the admiration they then prove their calibre by breaking forth into reciting Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address. It paints a beautiful backdrop for the movie as President Lincoln is freshly elected for a second term and has an agenda item that history will remember him for. This is where the heart of our story is anchored as the movie tells the political strategy that Lincoln employed to land the 13th amendment through the American political system in such a way that the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished.
The movie has pulled together some of the biggest names in the industry who were more than happy to pick up a few minor lines in order to share the stage with Spielberg’s epic drama. When the starring role was awarded to mercurial Daniel Day-Lewis the anticipation grew to another level. Day-Lewis not only brings a couple of Oscars in his back pocket but the London-based actor brought his 1.87cm stature to the role as well. While normally an actor can have their physical presence worked around there was no doubt that the historically tall Lincoln needed someone to match his 1.93cm (6’ 4”) presence. Add the superb make-up and hair and we found Lincoln had left his log cabin and was dramatic on-screen with a wary swagger and an almost carefree approach to the mantle of being President.
The moody lighting and often confined sets speak of a dark time in American History but through it, Daniel Day-Lewis charts a course with a performance that is full of care and levity. He portrays an astute strategist and a man of principle and depth of character.
“The minute you begin to approach him – and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies – he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.” – Daniel Day-Lewis on playing Abraham Lincoln
The script for this drama is of such a high calibre that it isn’t hard to see that the authors must have a fine pedigree. The basis of the screenplay was taken from the book “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer Prize-winning prolific America History writer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was then adapted into a screenplay by Spielberg’s Munich collaborator, another Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Tony Kushner. While bringing the depth of history into the 150min of onscreen time was a masterpiece, the scripting that allowed us to meet a wide range of the personalities of the day was also exceptional. Across the political divide as well as the gap between races and generations, we have a snapshot of American Civil War History.
We see Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) as he waits pensively with Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the field for news of the 13th amendment vote. Lincoln aligns heavily with Secretary of State, William H. Seward (David Strathairn) but it’s the role of Republican power broker Thaddeus Stevens played by Tommy Lee-Jones that proves to be a pivot point for the story. Jones draws us deep into the character when at times we wonder which way the state of affairs will roll. This parallel storyline in the movie shows us the tactics based on political savvy and harnessed alliances that were necessary but the end result seen through Thaddeus Steven’s eyes reveals a very personal reward.
The supporting role of most significance however goes to Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. The First Lady to Lincoln walked a difficult path losing two children young in life, dealing with depression and migraines as well as the political pressure of living alongside a Republican President set on abolishing slavery while dealing with her family background from wealthy slaveholders. The field is all-encompassing from her ability to play the in-control political strategist with cheek and power through to the weak-minded wife suffering to support her husband. It’s a performance that critics will applaud for her ability to capture the heart while not stealing the show.
America will be proud to see Lincoln portrayed for his strength of determination. The rights that were wronged, and the costs that were borne have given America a different future than the path they were on before Lincoln arrived. For pure class and a story worth following this is a 4 out of 5 popcorn historical event.