Nominated for 10 Golden Globes and 12 Academy Awards, Steven Spielberg’s latest epic, Lincoln has been one of the most anticipated films of the year. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, the film follows the last four months of the life of American President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, as he attempts to have the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution approved by Congress to abolish slavery.
The film does a very effective job of recounting what was a traumatic time for the people of the United States, a country ravaged both by the civil war and the ongoing debate on whether Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves should be passed. The film opens with a gory scene from the battlefield of the Civil war, cutting from this violence to our first sighting of Lincoln as he speaks with several Union soldiers. Already in this opening scene we see the benevolence of the president and his affection for those African-Americans he is desperate to free. However, his task of equality is one fraught with obstacles, as Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strargairn) constantly reminds him. It is in this context where we are introduced to members of the House of Representatives, of whom Lincoln needs to secure 20 Democrat votes to ensure the passage of his amendment.
Perhaps the loudest opposition during the debates on the floor of the House comes from Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), a Democratic Congressman from New York. Pace impresses as he manages to convey in his stinging rhetoric, the level of opposition facing the Republicans in attempting to pass the amendment.
Meanwhile, as legislators wrestle on Capitol Hill, Lincoln is also keen to end the Civil War and bring the rebel Confederate states back within the Union. The film does well to show the president’s tireless work in trying to convince politicians to vote for his amendment while trying to negotiate peace with the Confederates at the same time. Support comes in the form of Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a crucial role in the struggle against slavery and is a willing assistant to Lincoln on the floor of the House as the final vote on the amendment nears. The greatest compliment that can be paid to Day-Lewis is that he is believable in his role as the 16th president of the United States, and he is supported well by Sally Field, as his wife and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.
The story of Lincoln’s final months as president are well-known, but the ending scene of a flashback to his second inaugural address on the east front of the Capitol building in Washington shows a man who wanted to end the civil war, free all slaves and help the United States move forward together. His achievements are apparent, and the film does a very good job to depict a dedicated president whose noble ambitions to move his country forward were cruelly cut short.