Because Lincoln got rather mixed reviews in German papers and magazines, I didn’t go to watch the movie when it was first on here last autumn. After Daniel Day-Lewis had won the Oscar for best actor in February, it was put on at the local cinema again, and I went and watched it. And boy am I glad I didn’t miss it!
Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, focusses on a few weeks early in 1865. Abraham Lincoln has won his second election in November, and he is determined to see the Thirteenth Amendment pushed through the House of Representatives before his second inauguration (the Senate has already passed it). In order to achieve this, Lincoln needs to gain a two-third majority, which means winning over at least 20 Democrats to his cause, the irreversible abolition of slavery. The movie describes three or four weeks of political maneuvering, of winning allies and fearing possible loss of votes. The South is making tentative moves towards peace (which may destroy all chances for the Amendment), and Lincoln’s own family is not without crises.
The acting is marvellous. Daniel Day-Lewis is superb, and I was also delighted with Sally Field as Mary Lincoln, David Strathairn as the much put-upon Secretary of State Seward, Tommy Lee Jones as rebel Republican Thaddeus Stevens, and James Spader as the shady Bilbo (who provides some comic relief).
The balance between pathos/huge emotions and the casualness of everyday lives is deftly handled. On the one hand we have Lincoln getting the Gettysburg Address quoted to him by soldiers and a short scene from his second inaugural address. The allusions to the cruelties and the injustice of slavery are a constant throughout the film, but handled with restraint so that they don’t overpower. There is one scene on a battlefield. On the other hand, there is Lincoln taking his youngest son to bed, quarrelling with Mary, and sitting next to the telegraphs when news from Petersburg are expected.
What I liked best about the film is the way it treated the topic of politics. It was amusing to be reminded that once upon a time, the Democrats were the more conservative party and the Republicans the more liberal and human-rights oriented one. The political scheming and maneuvering (both legal and less than above-board), the weave of relationships and opinions, all this had me entranced. With great clarity both the cost and necessity of compromise are presented (shown with great poignancy and some humor especially in Tommy Lee Jones’s role), and the fearful cost of postponing peace talks with the South so that the Amendment could be passed. I was deeply moved by the film and couldn’t believe more than two hours had passed when it was over.
Lincoln is a movie I am definitely going to watch again, this time after reading up more on the historical events. If you haven’t watched it yet and are interested in history, politics, or both, I highly recommend it!
Which of you have seen Lincoln? Did you like it as much as I did?
- Rike Horstmann