Daniel Day Lewis transforms himself into the quiet-voiced 17th President of the United States for Steven Spielberg’s surprisingly cerebral epic on Lincoln’s last year in office.
Day Lewis is almost a dead cert for the Best Actor Oscar, playing the President who abolished slavery with wit, wisdom, melancholy and occasional passion. He is utterly convincing as a President burdened with a historic mission to win a war and end a system of bondage, with a face that might just as well be carved in Mount Rushmore.
The script crackles with intelligence and humour, giving life to all the peculiar and appalling political characters of the era.
With the backdrop of the bloody Civil War, you might expect a whole heap of battle scenes from the director of Saving Private Ryan.
Instead what you get is a fascinating and politically resonant essay on how the President and his Secretary of State use all means available to hack through a Congressional viper’s nest to win the vote for the 13th Amendment.
Tommy Lee Jones steals his scenes as the razor-tongued radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, while James Spader gives Day Lewis a run for his money as the cigar-chomping political fixer WN Bilbo, tasked with dragooning reluctant backwoods members of Congress into voting for abolition.
Sally Field plays Mrs Lincoln with real emotional power as a mother heartbroken by the death of her second son. The scenes between her and Day Lewis are among the most moving in the film.
Lincoln suffers from Hollywood’s general inability to give African Americans any real place within the story of slavery. Apart from two scenes where Lincoln talks to ex-slaves about what freedom means for them, black cast members are the usual noble onlookers on a struggle among rich white folk over the fate of millions.
For a more taboo-smashing take on slavery, watch Django.
Reviews by Joe Gill