Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Historical drama

During the 1850’s citizens of the United States were divided on the question of slavery. Campaigning leading up to the Presidential Election in November 1860 was split on this issue: the Democratic party was divided into Northern and Southern factions while the Republican party led by Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery and wanted it abolished.

Lincoln won the election with less than 40% of the popular vote but did not carry one slave-holding state. Secessionists had threatened that were he elected, their fifteen slave-holding states would leave the Union. This they did in February 1861 becoming the Confederate States of America.

At Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861 the new president said he had no plans to end slavery in those states where it already existed, but he also said he would not accept secession. He hoped to resolve the national crisis without warfare. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee fired on Fort Sumter on April 12,1861. Thus began the long civil war.

On January 1, 1863 Lincoln exercised his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to sign an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation which ordered the Army to treat as free men the slaves in the 10 states still in rebellion. This was an explicit war goal in addition to reuniting the Union. As a consequence 3 million people in Confederate territory became free men.

On April 8, 1864 the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude was passed by the Senate. To become law it had to be passed by the House but prolonged partisan debate caused delays. In December 1864 Lincoln expected the war to end within a month. He was concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be thrown out by the courts once the war concluded. He therefore endeavoured to have the 13th Amendment passed by the House before the end of January 1865 thus removing any possibility that those freed would be re-enslaved.

Daniel Day-Lewis: President Abraham Lincoln
David Strathairn: Secretary of State William Seward
Tommy Lee Jones: Thaddeus Stevens, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee
Lee Pace: Fernando Wood, democratic supporter of Confederacy
Sally Field: his wife Mary Todd Lincoln
Gulliver McGrath: the Lincoln’s youngest son Tad
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: his older brother Robert

Worthy of an Academy award, the performance by Day-Lewis is but one of many fine character impersonations this film has to offer. It also provides an insight to Lincoln’s interpersonal skills with people and his clear-sighted judgment in face of a terrible dilemma: end slavery or end the war. It soon becomes apparent that Lincoln accomplished more in the last four months of his life than most people do in a lifetime. 

It can be a bit confusing at times while trying to follow the House discussions (more like a yelling match than debate) and understanding the implications of the back room makeovers not to forget the under-the-table deals to outwit his opponents but the effort is worthwhile in order to get the gist of it.

Production values are first rate and the score by John Williams is one of his best. At 2 hours and 30 minutes it is not a minute too long given that the story being told is such an important one.

 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. 

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