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"Lincoln" (2012)

Updated on April 12, 2013

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"


Spielberg’s film presents the man, not the president

The film is based on a biographical novel, "Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", written by Doris Kearns, and brings to public attention the last months of life of the president Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president of the US).

This important political character is played by 55-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis. The actor is well known for his roles from "There Will Be Blood" (2007) and "My Left Foot" (1989). He accepted Spielberg’s proposal for “Lincoln” only ten years after. The initial refusal of Day-Lewis was confirmed even by Spielberg, and was based on the fact that the script seemed not good enough for the actor. Consequently, Spielberg had to rewrite the script. Even so, Day-Lewis's negative answer has not changed until Tony Kushner (who won a Pulitzer Prize for the play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes") came with his own version. These efforts were not in vain, Day-Lewis's performance was well received by film critics in November, after US premiere. The fact is that Day-Lewis is tall and he has big hands and a long neck, so he looks like Lincoln. But the physical resemblance is not the most important point of Lewis’s acting. He read about Abe, studied photos of the former president, and even asked the entire team to be addressed with “Mr. President”, even outside the movie set.

“Mary, Mary, we are elected”

Even if the main character is Abraham Lincoln, an interesting evolution has another character too: Sally Field, who interprets the wife of the former president, Mary Todd. According to Day-Lewis, Sally Field’s interpretation pictures a very strong woman. Towards the end of the film, Mary Todd tells her husband that if people want to understand him, they will have to understand her, too. This line is very important in the script, because the movie is an attempt to rebuild her historical image. She is considered to be at least a difficult person, with no interest in politics, even if a story says that, after 1860 elections, Lincoln went home saying ”Mary, Mary, we are elected”. However, Mary Todd was not very popular in her own time, even if she was referred to as “the First Lady” for the first time in American history.

Sally Field is famous for the speech she gave to accept her second Oscar: “I can’t deny the fact that you, like me, right now, you like me”. This is very Mary Todd Lincoln, and probably she was the best choice for this role, exactly like Daniel Day-Lewis. She is a two-time Academy Award winner and a three-time Emmy Award winner.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

 FotoLeft, © CORBIS; right, by David James/© 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
FotoLeft, © CORBIS; right, by David James/© 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg | Source

An Oscar for Spielberg

“Lincoln” could bring an Oscar for Steven Spielberg too, the most successful film producer of all times. He is known for producing movies like "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" and “E.T. The Extraterrestrial”. Spielberg is one of the most important filmmakers in Hollywood.

The highest earnings were due to "Jurassic Park", "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Saving Private Ryan".

Thoughts long after the Oscar ceremony

Lincoln (the film) was among the big winners at 2013 Oscar ceremony. Not the president of the USA who abolished slavery and unified the US, but the character of Spielberg's movie. Because he wanted to be original, Spielberg focused more on the 13th Amendment, which brought equality between whites and blacks, abolishing slavery. In this way, the director created a very strong political story. Because it is a political story, the watchers must understand politics, democracy, appreciate the life of a statesman who changed the course of history (American history and international history). This is why this film is not an easy one to watch, but people must see it because it is a very good opportunity to see a very good film among dozens of other romantic and comedies movies. Lincoln is a truly, historian and brilliant film.

I did appreciate the fact that Daniel Day Lewis accepted to have the leading role in this film. He is a very talented actor, who does not appear in a certain movie only for money or publicity.

The Conspirator

However, Lincoln is not the only well-done film about Abraham Lincoln. There is another one, from 2010: The Conspirator. The director was Robert Redford. Redford was interested in another important fact from the president's life: the assassination of Lincoln and the trial of those involved in this fatal plot. This is why The Conspirator is a drama based more on the power of dialogue and argumentation.

The first part of the movie directed by Robert Redford reconstructs moments and actions that led to the assassination of President Lincoln. After half an hour of confusion, chaos and pain, this film loses its historical attribute and turns into a legal drama, a very interesting debate and process against those who conspired against the most important political person in the US.

The prosecution, filed by the United States and the War Department, has as a goal to establish mainly the guilt of one person, Mary Surratt. According to the history, she was the owner of an American boarding house and she was convicted for taking part in the assassination conspiracy against Lincoln. She was sentenced to death and she was hanged, becoming the first woman executed in the USA by the federal government.

Redford suggests that the presumption of innocence did not function, it was a pure act of revenge. The case of Mrs. Surratt is more sensitive because she was a woman, a mother, Catholic. Mary Surratt’s conviction and hanging started a nationwide debate over whether female criminals deserve special treatment. The feelings were not the same during the trial and after her hanging. The predominant feeling during the trial was of disgust. After her hanging, the image of her death proved to be unbearable by the most of the people, including the hangman himself. Almost everybody expected president Johnson to commute in the last minute the sentence to life imprisonment. It seems that Mary Surratt was a distant cousin of Scott F. Fitzgerald.

The Conspirator is an impressive film, a drama that suggest imperfect justice when someone has to pay.

Who was Mary Surratt?

Elizabeth Surratt was the first woman (a widow and a mother of three children) to be hanged by the United States Government. She was hanged in Washington, D.C. on July 7, 1865. It almost does not matter anymore if she really was guilty or not, because the public opinion is divided between those who consider her innocent and those who think she must have done anything. Besides, John Wilkes Booth was a friend of her son and a frequent visitor at Mrs. Surratt’s Washington, D.C. boardinghouse.

The government had pronounced Mary Surratt guilty after a sixteen-week-long military trial. Neither she nor the other accused conspirators were allowed to testify in their own defense. The charges of their crimes had not been read to them until the day before the trial started (on May 11). Therefore, the defense had no time to prepare for the hearing. Mary Surratt was arrested and taken to prison on April 17 without being told why.

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