Hollywood director Steven Spielberg‘s movie Lincoln narrates the last 4 months of the life of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of United States of America, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Field as his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William H. Seward. It is his most ambitious venture into history since Schindler’s List (1993).
January 1865. The American Civil War is entering it’s 4th year. The victory of the “Union” over the “Confederacy” is imminent. Both sides are tired of fighting and keen to stop the bloodshed at almost any costs. Lincoln fears that his Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which de facto ended slavery, could be overturned after peace is declared and the confederate states (and their representatives in Congress) have returned. Time is running out. He pushes for an alteration of the United States Constitution to be passed by end of January. The movie gives an account of the political struggle to get legislation through the House of Representatives (it already passed the Senate at this point). It became law by a margin of 2 votes and is since known as The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
A review of a historical drama should not only judge the performances of the actors, photographers, directors etc. it should also question the accuracy of the story. It has therefor a subjective and an objective element. Both are equally important.
First, Daniel Day-Lewis’s interpretation of Abraham Lincoln is impressive. He brings out the strength but also the fragility of this politician. We understand how the responsibility of office weighted on his shoulders. We see before our very eyes the deterioration of his physical conditions. We are by his side. We do not want to be anywhere else. Brilliant! His outstanding display earned Daniel Day-Lewis his 3rd Academy Award (Oscar) as best actor. Congratulations!
Second, I am less convinced about the correctness of the story. We get the impression that Americans fought one-another solely to set slaves free. Historical facts suggest that in reality the situation was much more complex. North and South went to war essentially over disputes in trade policies. The cotton-exporting South pushed for Free Trade whereas the industrialized North favored protectionism. The American Civil War was fought to reverse the secession of southern states and (but not only) to abolish slavery. Lincoln’s merit is that he manged to keep the United States together in the most difficult of times. In my view the movie fails to stress this point. There is also no mentioning of how he won election in the first place (1860), no reference to his famous Copper Union Address (1860) etc.
I enjoyed watching Lincoln despite the weaknesses of the story. It made me think (I am sure not only me). Mission accomplished Mr Spielberg. (4/5 stars)