Lincoln. Had to go and see it. Has Spielberg produced a trudging monochrome of a history lesson, as ponderous as the great seated statue of the hero, or an epic – his best work since ‘Schindler’s List’? Four months of political chicanery – Lincoln was, after all, first and foremost a prairie lawyer – is mostly set behind closed doors – we see some daylight around the White House and a few grey, sodden battle scenes. It’s wordy, authentic and sometimes cruel; the manner and articulation of Civil War political debate is alien and brash and mirrors the youth of the democracy which it created. The President is determined, much to the displeasure of his advisers, to get the House to pass the 13thAmendment. The problem is – how to get the votes, who to influence. If you prefer visual stimulation to verbal pyrotechnics, Django Unchained will perhaps be more to your taste, but if you want to see visionary performances, not just from the phenomenal Daniel Day-Lewis who plays Lincoln with the indelible, translucent power of an actor who wears the role almost viscerally and feels it down to the nerve endings, but a masterful performance from Tommy Lee Jones who as the Republican abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens brings the acidity of a scorpion to the floor of the House.
Historians will argue over authenticity, but detail was meticulous, especially the White House interior where Lincoln’s office was recreated accurately and where the 16thpresident interacts authentically with his wife Mary (he calls her Molly) whose emotional spikes contrast beautifully with Lincoln’s faraway expressions, long, thoughtful pauses and touching scenes with his youngest son Tad who, it would seem, has the President’s ear at any time. The outcome is beyond doubt, but the suspense builds brick by brick as inward moral battles are fought. It’s beautifully restrained, daring, totally American and probably the best of the year so far.