Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Inspiring lesson in history

SPIELBERG should be congratulated for his brilliant timing

SPIELBERG should be congratulated for his brilliant timing.

Apparently, he has wanted to make this movie for more than a decade — what patriotic American director wouldn’t? — and it’s long been on top of his to-do list. Cute, loveable alien — check. Plight of the Jews in the Holocaust — check. And now, father of the nation and hero who outlawed slavery — check.

It seems almost prophetic, though, that Lincoln goes on general release in the same week that the current-day American saviour of souls, Barack Obama, launches his own (some might say politically suicidal) crusade to clean up gun laws, introduce higher taxes for the rich and even tackle that most thorny of issues for his populace, global warming.

It’s almost as if Obama — who had a private screening with the director in person at the White House some weeks before its official launch — has found some kind of divine inspiration from Spielberg’s depiction of the 16th US president.

This film, by all accounts, is not a run-of-the-mill biopic. We do not get to see Abraham Lincoln’s poverty-stricken childhood in Kentucky, nor his rise to power or even a great deal about his involvement in the Civil War. Instead, the film focuses solely on the end of his second term in 1865 when he goes all out to achieve his mission of passing an amendment through the House of Representatives to outlaw slavery. Such was the president’s evangelical zeal that he was even prepared to obstruct peace talks to end the Civil War in order to achieve his goal. This, then, is the political quagmire into which leading man Daniel Day-Lewis throws himself.

Critics on both sides of the Pond have lavished praise on him for his performance. Under the direction of Spielberg, and with a script by playwright Tony Kushner adapted from the biography Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln it seems he manages to avoid the mawkish, goody-two-shoes sentimentalism that this character could so easily slide into. Instead, he portrays Lincoln as hard-hitting, determined, practical and even cunning.

Day-Lewis has had plenty of detractors in his time. He has in the past, particularly in his early days, been tarred with the brush of being too earnest in his pursuit of perfection. But in latter years he has matured into one of the finest character actors to hail from these shores. Anyone who saw him play the strange, maniacal devil incarnate Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood surely cannot deny he is a fine and convincing performer.

He also takes his job very seriously. He was not the first choice (Liam Neeson turned the role down) but asked Spielberg to delay filming for a year so that he could do his homework. In order to play Abraham Lincoln authentically he spent hours pouring over contemporary accounts of the great man himself, and modelled his accent on the pitch-perfect tenor voice that made Lincoln such a great orator.

The formidable and versatile Tommy Lee Jones has also been credited for his performance as Thaddeus Stevens, while Sally Field plays the stressed-out First Lady, Mary.

Great moments in history tend to make fabulous cinema — think Titanic, or The Queen, or even Frost, Nixon — because, if nothing else, the audience gets to live vicariously through a time long forgotten, and through monumental moments which cast their shadow over our own lives.

And what moment could be more emblematic of the long, slow upheaval of man from the mire of barbarism than the day that slavery was finally made illegal?

Lincoln (12A)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones

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