I had long been excited about Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln – I’ve always been a massive history buff with a particular interest in the War Between the States. Stemming from a childhood trip to Gettysburg, many viewings of the mini-series North and South and finally, a deep and abiding love of The Killer Angels. My parents figured out when I was quite young that visiting battlefields was a cheap vacation, particularly since the majority of the war was fought within a few hours of my childhood home. It captured my imagination, particularly since I’m related to both Abraham Lincoln as well as having ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
That’s my ancestor, James Duckworth, who was killed at the Battle of Mine Run (thanks to my cousin Maegan). As a result, I came into the movie with an above-average knowledge of the War and interest in how the rich historical story would be told without unnecessary embellishments.
The movie chooses to forego the typical biopic structure to focus on the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. The War seems to be drawing to a close and Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is determined to pass the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery before the Confederate surrender loses him the support of the American people. With the help of his Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn, who does greatly resemble the man best known for his purchase of “Seward’s Folly” – Alaska), he hires lobbyists to alternatively bribe and threaten members of the US House of Representative in order to pass the highly controversial amendment.
Lincoln is not a movie for everyone. The movie requires a certain amount of knowledge about the War Between the States. For example, if the words “Appomattox Courthouse” have no meaning to you, you will be fairly puzzled by a scene where General Ulysses S Grant (Jared Harris captures Grant’s humour, but not quite the single-minded determination which earned him the nickname of “Grant the Butcher”) salutes a man in grey – a man never identified as Robert E. Lee. But the film is even less enjoyable if you are very well informed about the War. The movie ignores the attempted assassination of a major character and most notably, completely whitewashes the historical reality that several Union states were slave-owning states. There is no mention of this, completely ignoring that several of the representatives being asked to vote on the Thirteenth Amendment would have been slave owners themselves – Spielberg chooses to create a simplified version of history, avoiding interesting complexities, including that Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, was a Tennessee native who had run with Lincoln as candidates for a new political party (leaving one to wonder why his name is not mentioned to persuade his fellow Democrats).
Regardless, the acting is wonderful, with Day-Lewis inhabiting country lawyer Lincoln, who had a remarkable ability to relate and empathise with those he spoke to. Straithairn’s Seward is a dry foil to his friend and political rival. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, is wasted in the role of Robert Lincoln (a famously bad luck charm for American presidents), while Sally Fields is twenty years too old to play the neurotic Mary Todd Lincoln, but manages to show her frustration at the limitations imposed on her life (not least of all by her gender). Overall, it is an interesting and moving tribute to the American democratic process – but disappointing for true War buffs.
I decided to adapt my great-grandmother’s cookie recipe for this one – it’s my personal connection to the war (as her mother, my great great grandmother, used to tell my grandmother about hiding in the basement when the Yankees rode through.) We’re lucky enough to have a good few of her recipes, so I hope to blog more of them!
Duckie’s Rice Krispy Oatmeal Cookies
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (she used margarine, but luckily, I have no need to contend with the Great Depression or World War II rationing)
2 eggs (not pictured)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 cups of oats
Cream together the butter and sugar.
Lincoln is in cinemas now.