Gettysburg College’s Prof. Allen Guelzo, a Civil War era scholar, reviewed director Steven Spielberg’s celebrated film, "Lincoln," for The Daily Beast on November 27.
From the Daily Beast:
I am walking out of the multiplex theater in my old home town of Springfield, and already the sold-out audience for the next showing of Steven Spielberg’s new Lincoln is queuing up. The sound of something very rare in my movie-going experience is still reverberating in my ears – the sound of an audience applauding. And, from the opening crack of thunder that introduces us to Daniel Day-Lewis’s stoop-shouldered Lincoln, there is much worth applauding, even to an empty screen.
Let me play Lincoln biographer first, since I am not, after all, a movie critic. The pains that have been taken in the name of historical authenticity in this movie are worth hailing just on their own terms. Lincoln’s White House office (now the Lincoln Bedroom) meticulously replicates the marble fire-place, Lincoln’s stand-up pigeonhole desk, the scattering on the cabinet table of the Congressional Globe and a printed speech by Lincoln’s postmaster-general Montgomery Blair, the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the wall and the half-tone lithograph of British parliamentarian John Bright on the mantel. The theatre box in which Abraham and Mary Lincoln are listening to Gounod’s Faust has the same pattern of wallpaper as the fatal box at Ford’s Theatre, and Tad Lincoln learns of his father’s shooting while attending a performance of Aladdin. All the familiar figures appear: the staffers Nicolay and Hay, the 13th Amendment’s abolitionist floor-manager James Ashley, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (“Neptune”), Secretary of War Edwin Stanton – even the clerk of the House of Representatives, Edward McPherson, is correctly situated. Ulysses Grant really did have reddish-brown whiskers, and his military secretary really was a full-blooded Seneca sachem, Ely S. Parker. Even the glass-cased amputated leg of the scoundrel-general, Dan Sickles, makes a quick appearance.
It is on Lincoln himself that the most demanding historical exactness is fitted. And Day-Lewis wears it uncommonly well. His reedy-pitched voice reflects the numerous descriptions of Lincoln’s voice which described it as a tenor, with almost squeaky accents. He walks flat-footedly, as Lincoln did, wraps himself in a shawl, features only a tuft of beard at his chin (the luxuriant chin-whiskers of his early presidency had been shaved-down by the time of the movie’s events, in 1865), and quotes Shakespeare between off-color stories. Day-Lewis captures Lincoln’s canniness and his awkwardness, his external simplicity and his internal complexity, a man easy to underestimate but dangerous in the outcome when you do. Even odd snatches of Lincoln’s words surface, and not just in the set-piece moments like the Second Inaugural – “flub-dubs” to describe Mary Lincoln’s over-budget redecorating projects, the dream of a recurring dream of the ship navigating toward an unknown shore, the theorems of Euclid, the desire to see Jerusalem.