Right from the first minutes I was reminded of Richard Attenborough being interviewed about “Ghandi,” a film he’d spent most of his adult life planning to make. He went to India to negotiate filming on location but the authorities seemed more preoccupied with how Ghandi was to be portrayed. Who would play him was a big issue, he was such a revered figure they felt no-one could or should represent him; that to have him ‘played’ by ‘an actor’ was almost an affront to his memory. They suggested he could be represented by a point of light that would move about on screen. Attenborough was scornful, “I hadn’t spent thirty years of my life,” he said, “trying to make a film about bloody Tinkerbell.” And that’s what it felt like I was watching. Lincoln was portrayed with such reverential awe that he might well have been played by a point of shining light.
Fortunately, the film is not a bio-pic telling Lincoln’s story from cradle to grave. It focused specifically on the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment and the few months of manoeuvring and power-politics required to pass it in what turned out to be a nineteenth-century version of The West Wing. Like that landmark TV series, the film was well written, tight and focused, and the masterful acting and high production values saved the day. Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding as Lincoln, and while I had read some criticism over his high-pitched voice I found he sounded convincing and real. Indeed, the awe and reverence on the faces of the actors around him may simply have been their admiration for his performance.
All-in-all it was a compelling and engrossing film of Oscar-winning standards. Up until the closing scenes, that is, when we see Lincoln lying on his bed surrounded by his closest advisors. Upon being pronounced dead, the scene fades and a burning candle flame fills the screen. Then, through the flame, Lincoln appears and delivers his second Inaugural address. Bloody Tinkerbell after all. Aaron Sorkin would have done a better job.