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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Film - Lincoln - directed by Steven Spielberg

Star rating - 8/10

Steven Spielberg apparently went to Daniel Day-Lewis twice with different scripts for Lincoln, over a period of several years, before the great one finally agreed to play the lead role in this epic film which charts a key moment in American history. Spielberg says he has never courted anyone for so long - not even his wife - and Leonardo Dicaprio acted as a mediator to finally get the reluctant star to agree to play the role. Safe to say it was worth all the effort, as Day-Lewis puts in a momentous, towering performance as the ill-fated but acutely politically astute president , even by his ridiculously high standards.

This version was actually by a different script writer altogether from previous attempts, and is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's quite excellent book Team of Rivals. By the way, this book was the one that, besides the Bible, Barack Obama chose to take into the White House with him for inspiration after his first election victory, and it is also heartily recommended by no less than ex spin doctor extraordinaire Alistair Campbell, as a treatise on leadership.

You can read my review of that book elsewhere in this blog:

Day-Lewis inhabits the role, as he does every role he has ever played, completely and utterly. He is mesmeric and on screen for most of the 150 minutes running time. It is set in 1865 when America was weary from over four years of Civil War, and desperate to end hostilities, and horrendous loss of life on both sides. Lincoln used his consummate skills as a politician to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution passed, thereby abolishing slavery, one of the main points of issue between the warring two sides, before the south was forced to surrender. And he did not care what deception or skulduggery it took to achieve his passionate aim.

There is not actually much Civil War action shown, as the film is more about political manoeuvring than battlefield action. One of the master strokes of genius that Lincoln pulled off was to keep his defeated rival candidates for the presidency very close to him when in power. The relationship between Lincoln and his unhappy wife Mary is also one of the driving forces behind his actions, and she is played brilliantly and forcefully by Sally Field. I am sure both will triumph come Oscar night. Their personal grief at the loss of one of their young sons, Willy, some years before is something they suffer in their own different ways, but it is never far from their conversations. 

There are 145 speaking parts in the film - which is quite a feat. The result is a bit overlong in truth, as almost all such epic films tend to be these days. And Spielberg can't resist putting in a few over dramatic flourishes  in places, as he does. But none of these minor flaws can detract from the awe inspiring performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. A truly epic man, played by an epic actor resulting in a very enjoyable film.

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