I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published February 1st 2013
Lincoln takes place during the final stages of the American Civil War in 1865. Drawing on a large cast of characters, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, the amendment that made slavery illegal.
Daniel Day-Lewis as the soft-spoken, but iron-willed and fiercely intelligent Lincoln will certainly win cinematic awards, but the stand-out performance was Tommy Lee Jones' portrayal of the bold and visionary Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Thaddeus Stevens. The name will likely be unfamiliar to most, except for the expert in American Civil War history and politics. The film does a great job of bringing the achievements of this significant figure out of the shadows of history and onto a worldwide platform. His worldview, considered radical in his day, is still of the utmost relevance in our modern times where there are more people in illegal slavery than there ever were during all the long centuries of legalised slavery.
Sally Fields' portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln also gives depth to a character usually interpreted only through her connection with Lincoln. In fact, the film gives life to many forgotten figures of the era lost through time or overpowered by the memory of Lincoln (including Lincoln's sons, Tad and Robert).
Although the film takes place during the bloodiest war in American history, there are very few scenes of actual war or violence. The film is mainly composed of dialogue, but such is the quality of the dialogue and the power of the subject that the film seems much shorter than its running time of 2.5 hours.
One note to mention, if you're unfamiliar with the American Civil War or political process, it is worthwhile to read a brief overview before watching the film. The film is comprised of a very large cast of characters and much political/legal dialogue and it is easy to forget the names and allegiances of some of the minor characters.
On the point of historical accuracy, some historians have commented that the film 'exaggerates' the events of the period. The film is not without modern bias and every speech is not verbatim text from the period. However, despite minor inaccuracies, the great strength of the film is its ability to compel the viewer to learn more about Lincoln and the anti-slavery movement, even extending to engagement with present day anti-slavery campaigns.
Thaddeus Stevens chose to be buried in the only cemetery that he could find that would accept all people of all race and background, stating on his tombstone: 'I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.' Now that is a powerful example of never giving up on one's convictions. The abolitionists of the film, their great words, and the mighty acts they achieved during their century will leave you feeling inspired to carry on their work in the modern day anti-slavery movement.