Lincoln: a story of struggle, sacrifice and some success


Abraham Lincoln’s fight to abolish slavery in America was cheated of an Oscar, says Peter Kervin.


First, a confession; I’m a hopeless geek when it comes to American presidents. I read about them, watch every documentary about them, and like to think I know a great deal about the inner and outer lives of every man who’s ever set foot in the White House.

So it was with a little trepidation that I set out to watch Lincoln, the epic about the political machinations behind the outlawing of slavery. Would it be a dull and predictable re-hash of everything I’d previously read? I’m delighted to say that I found the film quite fascinating. It really is an intriguing masterclass in the political black arts.

It reveals the political reality behind the abolition of slavery; bribery and blackmail are resorted to, rules are bent, people are coerced. Particularly memorable are the portrayals of the professional fixers-in-chief who conduct themselves with a breathtaking lack of concern for legality or morality.

In his third Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln. Rather, Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincoln. It is a remarkable portrayal of a man who endures immense pressure to achieve the greatest of goals. Lincoln was determined that the 700,000 deaths of the Civil War should not have been in vain. Slavery must end. An amendment to the constitution was necessary. But he had already tried that – the Senate had agreed to the 13th Amendment but the House of Representatives refused to pass it by the necessary two-thirds majority.

The film is an insider’s account of how Lincoln sets about changing that vote in the White House.

Lincoln struggles to make it all work. He ages with the weight to be carried and, unfortunately, his private life provides no refuge from the storm. His wife Mary, (played by Sally Field) does not emerge as a constant help in times of trouble. The death of their son, William, has scarred the family and now their eldest son, Robert, wants to join the army.

The moment comes … we have grandstand seats in the House of Representatives as the crucial vote is to be taken. The votes are tallied, one by one. Eventually the result is announced: 119-56. Slavery is at an end.

Lincoln has won both the Civil War and the 13th Amendment. But there is no ‘happily ever after.’ He lives for only five days after the end of the Civil War.

Day-Lewis was the right Oscar choice for Best Actor. Argo was voted best film. Wrong choice: Lincoln was better.