Seven score and nine years ago, President Abraham Lincoln, weak from an oncoming illness, stepped in front of a large crowd gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to deliver what would become widely recognized as one of the finest speeches ever uttered in the English language. The words he spoke that day have come down to us one hundred and forty nine years later as The Gettysburg Address. Words that have been studied and faithfully memorized by millions over the decades that follow because of the powerfully elegant simplicity with which they sum up so much of what was great about Abraham Lincoln and, more importantly, what is great about America.
Last week a new movie (Lincoln) opened, based on a short, but exceptionally important time in the life of Mr. Lincoln, and in the country as a whole. It is, considering the release date as so close to the anniversary of this iconic speech, that the film opens with a scene which sees mention of the speech itself in a magnificent manner. But that is not inconsistent with the film as a whole. It is a brilliant, no, a transcending piece of work.
Taking place primarily over the month of January, 1865, as the Civil War rages to to it’s bloody end, the film deals with the politics behind the passage of the 13th Amendment to our Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States for all time. A more important moment in our history could scarcely be found.
As someone who has spent more than two decades studying Lincoln, poring over texts, books and original research, visiting sites of importance in his life, talking to experts, and using this compounded knowledge to bring the man to life in front of hundreds of thousands of young people during that time, I approached this film with great expectation. The film features one of Hollywood’s most successful directors in Steven Spielberg. The script was written by Tony Kushner, one of America’s leading playwrights, and a man of great intelligence and insight into the human condition. Research and historical insight was provided by Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of America’s leading experts on Lincoln, and author of the splendid best seller Team of Rivals. And far from least, the role of Lincoln himself was to be played by Daniel Day lewis, one of, and perhaps the finest actor of his generation, and blessed with a physical appearance absolutely perfect for this task. All in all, the film promised to be perfect.
And it is.
Oh, I am sure there will be those for whom this is not the case. Already some trolls have posted some negative reviews, blaming the film for not being fast paced enough, and nit picking at other non existent flaws in order to bolster their own egos. Forget these pathetic individuals.
The film does not attempt to cover the entire life of Mr. Lincoln, and yet does a fine job of gently inserting many relevant details from previous moments in his life. In fact, the film is a treasure trove of detail and trivia about the man and paints a stunning picture of the icon as a human being. Moreover, it focuses attention on a section of history often ignored by most people. To many, the battle for freedom reached it’s zenith (at least in the context of Lincoln) with the Emancipation Proclamation. And, indeed, that accomplishment is beyond grand. But forgotten by many is that this was a wartime measure, in danger of being rolled back at the end of the war without a further action to ensure it’s permanence. This is the battle described in perfection by this film.
The other characters are equally well acted and equally compelling. Mrs. Lincoln, Secretary Seward, Secretary Stanton, Robert Lincoln, all receive near perfect representations. The period is faithfully and accurately recreated.
Over all, aside from being a marvelous film for the Lincoln fan, this will be a superb film for teaching history. The attention to detail and accuracy make this a spectacular vehicle for making sense of this series of events for students today, and in generations to come. How often do we hear from kids that to them history is boring? This film is not boring. Far from it.
But don’t forget ... if you are interested in bringing Lincoln to life for kids, this brilliant movie, as good as it is, only concerns one month. For schools interested in looking at the entire life of Lincoln, we still maintain there is no better way than through a visit from Mr. Lincoln himself in the guise of a skilled impersonator in a well crafted school assembly program.
With all the excitement about Abraham Lincoln this film is likely to generate, this might just be the perfect year to arrange such a school show visit to your school.
But do go and see this great film. It may well be the best $10 you ever spent.
Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fields of science, history, writing, astronomy, natural science, mathematics, character issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN