If you’re a West Wing fan, you will be struck by how closely its President Bartlett was based on Lincoln (something I never knew, although they do talk about Lincoln a lot on that show): towering intellect, slightly mannered folksy charm, surrounded by an opinionated staff who adored him. The big difference is that Lincoln grew up poor and Bartlett came from money.
The Boston Legal element comes from James Spader playing WN Bilbo. Bilbo seems to have been essentially a Civil War-era version of Spader’s Boston Legal character, Alan Shore: prepared to bend and break the law (and people’s heads) for a good cause. In Shore’s case, things like getting a good mother custody of her children from a slimeball ex; in Bilbo’s case, getting Congressmen to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment which outlawed slavery in the USA.
It’s very talky and there are lots of people trying to do era-accurate accents, so pay attention. Although the score will tell you when something momentous has happened in Congress if you’ve lost track while all the white men argue about who it would be worse to let vote: black men or white women.
There were two distracting things. I’m going to get slaughtered for this, but, firstly: Daniel Day-Lewis was disappointing; I never forgot that he was him. I don’t know if it was his fault for doing an impression rather than acting, or Spielberg’s for wanting to show off the prosthetics and makeup that made Day-Lewis’s profile so like Lincoln’s famous profile.
Secondly: I kept getting pulled out of the film by all the recognisable faces in the cast. It was three hours of ‘spot the super famous actor with a bit-part’.
Mary Todd Lincoln being written as a highly-strung, intelligent woman not coping particularly well with the convergence of public life and the profound grief of losing a child to illness, rather than a crazy woman who impedes her husband’s brilliant career.
A scene at the end with Jones and his character’s housekeeper.
A black soldier who speaks with Lincoln very near the beginning. I think his name is Clarke.
Getting to see how creepy a world peopled exclusively with educated white men is.
I can’t get over how Daniel Day-Lewis failed to convince or move me. I feel very sad about it. I may need to watch this again.
Politics has always been a dirty business. Your generation is not better or worse than any other. It’s not even original.