‘Lincoln,’ the movie, portrays the last four months of the president’s life

Director Steven Spielberg brings Abe Lincoln to life through actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who captures the tortured soul of the 16th president. Photo: Daniel Day-Lewis becomes Abraham Lincoln

VIENNA, Va., November 7, 2012 ­— Over 15,000 books have been written about the 16th President, which comprise a stack three stories tall.  The number of movies is not recorded, but it must be in the hundreds. And now here comes a new one, “Lincoln” by the brilliant director, Steven Spielberg, via DreamWorks through Disney’s Touchstone Studios in the United States and distributed internationally by 20th Century Fox Studios. 

It has been in the works since 2010 when Spielberg read the book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” and decided it was perfect for a movie. Dwelling only on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, the movie promises to be a long-awaited addition to all things about Abraham Lincoln.

Parts of “Lincoln” were filmed in Richmond, once the capital of the Confederacy, and the city realized some $64 million dollars in revenue, including labor, costs, rentals, pay for 415 jobs created, etc. Filming was done in 53 days, but the entire production took six months. Naturally Richmond is behind the coming movie, which will have a special screening there.

Academy award winner Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln, and watching the already released trailer, he does it well. His voice is the partially high, tenor voice associated with Lincoln, and at 6’2-1/2” tall, he is nearly as tall as the president was. Add a 4-6’ top hat, and he is totally believable; he even lost some 30 pounds to better portray the rather lanky Lincoln.

Day-Lewis admitted he was reluctant to portray the iconic Lincoln and the difficult time in his life when he tried to get his own cabinet and Congress to agree with the idea of emancipation, and it took some unlikely alliances to accomplish it. 

The Lincoln family

Judging from the already released trailers, Day-Lewis brings to the part the combination of intensity, concern and frustration to carry off the persona of the 16th president. Lincoln was aware that he was regarded with a high degree of contempt, particularly by many of those he had appointed to high positions in the government, the actor revealed, but he was able to compartmentalize those antithetical feelings and look beyond them to see the larger picture.

Probably the most controversial casting was transforming Sally Field into Mary Todd Lincoln. As a young actress best known in years past as the “Flying Nun,” Field was anxious to play the part of Mrs. Lincoln and literally hounded Spielberg for some time to give her a chance to try out for it. Ultimately when Spielberg conceded and let her read for the part opposite Day-Lewis, both Spielberg and Day-Lewis felt she was perfect for the role, and close enough in age to Mrs. Lincoln to be able to pull it off.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican representative, and Hal Holbrook plays Preston Blair, the founder of the new Republican Party of the time. Holbrook may be remembered for his Emmy-winning portrayal of Lincoln in a 1976 mini-series.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

Female parts are few and far between in this movie. However, Gloria Reuben portrays Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who was both dressmaker and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Fans of television staple “Law and Order” will recognize S. Epatha Merkerson as Lydia Smith, the biracial housekeeper of Thaddeus Stevens, a bachelor.  Smith lived with him for many years and acted as his hostess, both of them denying there was any romantic interest between them, though that was always a subject of discussion.

Aside from the beautiful gowns made for Mrs. Lincoln by Elizabeth Keckley, those interested in the female-oriented minutiae of the film should note the beautiful pearl necklace, earrings and bracelet that the First Lady wears. 

The originals were actually bought by her at Tiffany’s in New York in 1861, and according to the records, ultimately paid for by Lincoln in 1862. A portion of the pearl set is in the holdings of the Library of Congress, and film representatives came to the Library to see the actual jewelry and take pictures and measurements to be able to replicate it.


Read also: The Civil War: Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidant was a former slave


John Williams did the outstanding soundtrack; many of you know his  most recognizable film scores from other motion pictures, including Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, ET, etc.

“Lincoln” opens November 9 in selected theaters across the country and will be at all theaters as of November 16.  A media preview was held on November 1 in Washington D.C as well as other selected venues.

Follow the column on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email it’s MBoltz2846@aol.com 

Read more of Martha’s columns on The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times.


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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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