He is on the penny and on the National Mall. Second in importance to no other President save Washington. Before seeing the latest movie I only the knew the broadest outlines of Lincoln’s life and career. That he was the President during one of the most trying times in American History, the Civil War. He signed the emancipation proclamation and abolished slavery and that he was the first President to be assassinated.
Lincoln, the Spielberg movie focuses on a brief but important period in his life and the history of the Union. The screenplay is by Tony Kushner and the movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals. The movie focuses on the months after Lincoln’s reelection, when he was trying to get the thirteenth amendment to the constitution through the lame duck session of Congress. An amendment to the Constitution which would abolish slavery.
The drama is centered on getting the various factions of the Republican party in Congress, to vote for the amendment, before the war ends. This meant getting support of conservative Republicans, like Francis Preston Blair, from Maryland, who want a quick end to the war and the more liberal, abolitionist faction of radical Republicans led by Pennsylvania Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens, who want more sweeping reforms in addition to abolishing slavery. The bill had already passed the Senate. Meanwhile the war is still raging on although the Confederacy is on its last legs. A Southern peace delegation is making its way to DC.
On the domestic front, Lincoln has to contend with his wife’s mood swings and being the primary parent to their youngest son. His older son wants to join the war effort, something which his mother is totally against. Since she has lost a child already, while in the White House and does not want to lose another. The Lincoln marriage seemed contemporary, they were partners and equals. The portrayal of his domestic life, did much to humanize him, bringing him down from the Olympian heights of Mt. Rushmore. The only times Lincoln seemed worry free and happy was when he was playing with his youngest son.
The bill does pass, and the movie ends not with Lincoln’s assassination but his second inauguration speech. For me the movie worked, it brought out Lincoln the man, and his struggles and an important event in the history of the country. The audience in the theater where I saw the movie, seemed to agree with me, as everyone in the theater stood up and clapped as the credits rolled in.
Apart from Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, was the one that fascinated me the most. He seems like a remarkable person, I wonder why there has been no movie made about him.
This movie also prompted me to read about the history of the Civil War in greater detail. I am currently reading the Battle Cry of Freedom. I also appreciated the PBS mini-series the Abolitionists a lot more, as the thirteenth amendment, in a way was a culmination of their struggle. Speaking of movie worthy biographies, in addition to Stevens, a movie on Douglass, would be the one I would like to see.
Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable as Lincoln and a strong contender for the Oscar for best actor. So far I have seen him in the Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence and A Room with a View, all very different roles, and I have always come away impressed at his depth and range. Day Lewis was ably supported by Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens and Lee Pace as Fernando Wood, and the entire ensemble cast. Kudos also to the casting director, many of the actors have remarkable resemblance to the historical counterparts. A movie that makes you think and gets you to ask questions, and prompts you to find out more. What more can one ask from a movie?