Heavily nominated by both the Academy of Motion Pictures and BAFTA, this biopic from Steven Spielberg focuses primarily on Lincoln’s last four months and his attempts to emancipate the black population starting with his campaign to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which outlawed slavery, still a problem in many southern, Confederate states. To many, myself included the film will be quite educational. With the title role played by twice Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis, supported by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg there can be no doubt, on the surface at least, why this has been heavily nominated.
I was concerned at first that my ignorance to this part of history would leave me behind but, as it soon became apparent that the finale would be the build up to the vote in the Senate chamber, the journey was more smooth if a little predictable. As you would expect with a movie of this calibre everything from costume to a mid-19th century Capitol building (Richmond VA, not Washington). Scenes of the American Civil War are quite detailed and a little graphic. One shot shows a gasping man’s face pressed deeper and deeper into the mud by a boot. But whilst period details have been painfully recreated, the historical account itself remains a little dubious. For example, Lincoln is seen pressing on with the amendment with urgency as he feels if he leaves it too late, the imminent resolution of the American Civil War anticipated later that year would dilute his support to get the amendment passed. But some have suggested he used the amendment to cripple the economy of the southern states that were heavily supported by slavery. Rather a contrast of accounts and ammunition for those who argue that Hollywood often sentimenalises and idealises historical events at the expense of truth and fact. God bless America!
Performances worthy of a mention is James Spader as W.N. Bilbo and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens. Surprisingly a majority of the scenes are straight forward dialogue, almost static and theatrical. If the film is a hit of epic proportions, then I wouldn’t be surprised if a play version popped up on Broadway. But only Broadway, I imagine, because surely this film can only be of any real interest to those who are interested in American, historical, political dramas. And beyond America, that’s a pretty niche market. Maybe West Wing fans and those who avidly watch History Channel reconstructions. It ticks all the boxes for things like the BAFTA’s and Oscars, yes Day-Lewis’s performance is great and it will remain as iconic film as Ghandi maybe! But, as I’m realising the older I get, that is little reflection to what Joe Public aka ‘The Box Office’ think. The very fact that Skyfall (released in October and STILL going strong) has eluded all of the major nominations from both institutes epitomises this point.