In adapting to film the story of how the sixteenth President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), abolished slavery by way of the Thirteenth Amendment, and ended the US Civil War, in Lincoln (trailer), director Steven Spielberg (“Empire of the Sun”, “Munich”) brings the venerable leader’s character to the fore.
After all Lincoln is familiar to many through perhaps his imposing statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the well known account of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, but these tell people today little about what someone, who is often considered the greatest president of the United States, was like as a person.
Set predominantly in January 1865, “Lincoln” sees the US President struggling to gather the final twenty votes he needs to secure the Thirteenth Amendment’s passage through the House of Representatives. Peace negotiations are in progress with the break-away Confederate States, but Lincoln wants the amendment passed before these conclude.
Lincoln is concerned that Confederate States, in agreeing to a cease-fire, and re-admission to the United States, will only do so if they can retain slavery. Congress, however, is but one of his worries. Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), and even his wife (Sally Field), feel Lincoln should abandon the amendment.
Bringing a figure as revered as Abraham Lincoln to life is no small ask, and here Spielberg’s casting of Day-Lewis is a master stroke. The British actor has made a career out of entering the minds of those he portrays, and not through merely mimicking them, but becoming them. This isn’t Day-Lewis we are looking at, but Lincoln himself.
While an essential ingredient, Day-Lewis’ authoritative performance as the US President isn’t the sole high point of “Lincoln”. With meticulous attention to detail, Spielberg vividly recreates the warring, divided, America of the mid nineteenth century in this accomplished depiction of one of the most momentous chapters in the nation’s history.