For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enthralled by the American Civil War. And Lincoln delivers an inside look into the reasons, the battles, and the people behind it. Fueled by the fight for slavery, the movie portrays just how divided the United States were at the time.
The movie begins in January 1865, where we see President Abraham Lincoln speaking to the House of Representatives. Speaking to one of the biggest issues to effect slavery, he urges them to pass the 13th amendment during the final months of the Civil War.
From there, the movie chronicles the ongoing debate in the House. And we also see Lincoln’s responses to the peace talks with the Confederacy.
This film immerses you into what it was like trying to get the amendment ratified, while also looking at Lincoln’s home life.
Set during the last few months of the American Civil War, Lincoln immerses you in what it was like to live in that time. We’re presented with an inside look at the White House and the House of Representatives, and the movie brings each location to life.
Not only do we get to see these historical buildings within Washington, D.C., we’re also treated to the Battleground at Petersburg and the steamboat River Queen.
Joanna Johnston’s costume designs, along with the fantastic sets, added to every actor looking just like their historical counterparts. And when you add that into the stellar performances of the cast, this film is nothing short of full immersion.
Featuring a cast full of immense talent, some of the lesser-known actors will pull you into the story with their incredible acting skill. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Abraham Lincoln gave him a third Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the only actor to win three in that category.
Sally Field would get an Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd. And Tommy Lee Jones would also receive a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category as Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican Congressman.
Lincoln’s cabinet plays a big part with not only the 13th amendment but also in planning the war. Throughout the film, Lincoln would have two secretaries. His private secretary, John George Nicolay was played by Jeremy Strong, and his military secretary, Joseph Cross, played Major John Hay.
Abraham Lincoln also had a full cabinet of advisers working to help him, as well. This included Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher, Secretary of the Treasury William Fessenden, and Attorney General James Speed. Each of those roles were played by David Strathairn, Bruce McGill, Grainger Hines, Dakin Matthews, Walt Smith and Richard Topol, respectfully.
With Thaddeus Stevens working in the House, multiple members of Congress are in opposition of the 13th amendment. Peter McRobbie’s George H. Pendleton leads the opposition, but uses Lee Pace’s Fernando Wood to get under Stevens’ skin.
Though Thaddeus was not without his allies, and he found support from fellow Republican Congressmen, including David Costabile’s James Ashley, Stephen Spinella’s Asa Vinter Litton, Michael Stanton Kennedy’s Hiram Price, and Raynor Scheine’s Josiah Burton.
The Republicans were in control of the house but lacked the votes needed to force the 13th amendment into law. Though William Bilbo Richard Schell and Colonel Robert Latham played by James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Hawkes, respectively, worked to get the votes to pass the law.
The Union Army
You couldn’t have this film without showing some of the Union Army. Most prominent are Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant and Adam Driver as Samuel Beckwith. The addition of Lukas Haas and Dane DeHaan as unnamed soldiers in this movie surprised me, as they have both gone on to create strong acting careers.
As a fan of Civil War history, this film has always been on my list of movies to see. When I finally saw the performance that Daniel Day-Lewis put in for his third Oscar, I was blown away. And it’s highlighted by the fantastic performances all around him. Add in the beautiful, and you fall into the movie.
While not a bloody film, it does have a few clips of dead and dismembered bodies. Along with the dense material being debated, it is not a film that younger audiences should watch. Though I do think once they get to the point, they could understand what is going on and the importance of it, I do recommend this film as one everyone should see.