Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic is heavy on heroic speeches but light on the historical truth

by Chris Tookey –  MailOnline, 24 January 2013

Abe needs a few amendments


Verdict: Heartfelt hagiography

Steven Spielberg has admitted Lincoln is the first film he’s directed wearing a tie.

So respectful and stodgily solemn is his Oscar-nominated film it looks as if Spielberg directed it in a 19th-century frock coat with white kid gloves, and on bended knee.

It’s not all bad. The film offers a minutely detailed account of the political wrangles leading up to the adoption by Congress of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery across America.

On his high horse: Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln looking across a battlefield in the aftermath of a terrible siege in Lincoln
On his high horse: Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln looking across a battlefield in the aftermath of a terrible siege in Lincoln

It succeeds in showing Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) as a political fixer, not above bribery and being economical with the truth.

If you’re gripped by the minutiae of 19th-century American politics, it’s moderately enjoyable.

Its message for today is partly about the importance of idealism with regard to racial equality, but it’s also — very topically, in the light of Barack Obama’s tribulations — about the need for compromise.

This is most powerfully dramatised in the reluctant decision of Lincoln’s ally, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to tone down his radical, racially egalitarian beliefs in order not to scare off the Right. Jones’s moments of light relief and irreverence — though far too crude for the historical context — steal the picture, and will probably win him Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.

James Spader’s portrait of W. N. Bilbo, a cheery rogue who did much of Lincoln’s dirty work, is also watchable. Sally Field, as Lincoln’s neurotic wife Mary, has a thanklessly nagging part, but does at least manage to reveal a side of Honest Abe that was slightly human.

Day-Lewis looks the part and supplies plenty of gravitas, with welcome traces of a dry sense of humour. He remains, however, a mythic, super-heroic icon of leadership, speaking in wise parables and high-flown rhetoric.

Loyal: Sally Field stars as First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln
Loyal: Sally Field stars as First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln


The sad truth is that Spielberg and his writer Tony Kushner are offering a phoney, sanitised version of Lincoln. Most modern re-evaluations of the Republican President suggest that he was not the liberal that present-day Democrats would like him to have been.

The real Lincoln believed in whites’ superiority over blacks, condemned miscegenation and was keen to ship black slaves off to overseas plantations after the abolition of slavery.

You’d never know it from Spielberg’s film, but the anti-slavery 13th Amendment originated not with Lincoln but with a petition campaign by early feminists called the Women’s National Loyal League. The film wildly exaggerates the President’s role in ending slavery and virtually ignores black people’s contribution.

The most prominent abolitionists included newspaper editor William Garrison, heiress Angelina Grimke,  novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe and the freed slave Frederick Douglass. Not one of these is mentioned in Lincoln.

The film most culpably leaves out the fact that, while events in this picture were occurring, southern slaves were already rebelling and seizing the land where they worked.

Nowhere in the film is any mention by Lincoln or any of his allies of the strategic advantages of ruining the slave-based southern economy, and freeing millions of slaves behind enemy lines, many of whom would then fight for the Yankee army.

This is high-minded hagiography, and too much of it resembles a Disneyfied waxworks show with an animatronic version of Daniel Day-Lewis intoning speeches by the great man in a reedy tenor, while John Williams’s sub-Aaron Copland score strains for sonorous solemnity.

Spielberg ends the film with Lincoln’s assassination, but here again the director’s decision to show the event from the point of view of Lincoln’s young son has the effect of infantilising history.

The murder by John Wilkes Booth was not as Spielberg portrays it, an isolated event, but part of a political coup, with two other assassination attempts plotted simultaneously against Lincoln’s vice-president and secretary of state.

Spielberg is always a professional, and the film is never less than well-crafted. Though some will find it a tedious talkathon, it’s quite a bit more enjoyable than his last venture into similar territory, Amistad. But I don’t see it doing well on this side of the Atlantic.

There’s none of the flair, fun or originality that mark Spielberg’s finest work. It was a patriotic inevitability that this very American film would receive multiple Oscar nominations, but if it does win at the Academy Awards it will be more for worthiness than for artistic or historical merit.


Author: National-Satanist

Just another blue-eyed devil...

4 thoughts on “Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic is heavy on heroic speeches but light on the historical truth”

  1. Steven Spielberg’s pseudo-historical film about a 19th-century mutiny and massacre aboard a Spanish slave ship, Amistad, and the subsequent trial of the Black mutineers is being praised by the reviewers. Spielberg, one of the wealthiest and most successful of Hollywood’s Jewish film makers, is also being praised by his kinsmen in various so called “human rights” organizations for using his propaganda skills to sensitize White, Gentile audiences to the horrors of slavery and make them feel just a little more guilty for treating non-Whites so badly in the past. What the film doesn’t mention, of course, is that Spielberg’s Jewish kinsmen owned many, though not all, of the ships involved in the 18th and 19th-century Atlantic trade in Black slaves and, in fact, played a very prominent role in bringing Black slaves to America.

    The film tends to steer one away from blaming anyone for slavery except White Gentiles. This bit of misdirection is interesting in light of the fact that Jews have been dominant in the slave trade since at least Roman times — especially the trade in White slaves.



    1. The fact of the matter is that all of the dialogue in Amistad, several of the characters, and much of the plot were invented by Spielberg’s scriptwriters and have no basis in fact. Yet Spielberg’s Hollywood production company actually has had the brass to produce a so called “film study guide and learning kit” which has been mailed out to thousands of high school teachers and principals with the suggestion that it be used to bring the so-called “lessons” of Amistad into their school curricula. Nowhere in Spielberg’s material for high school students is there any hint that the film is not historically accurate.

      What his “learning kit” for students does contain, however, is a statement by one of his associates in the production of the film, Debbie Allen. She condemns the history texts used in American schools as “racist,” because they fail to give an account of the achievements of Blacks, and she blames this “racism” on Whites’ refusing to acknowledge “the contributions of a culture that was far beyond and centuries ahead.” Spielberg’s Amistad associate wants White high school students to be taught that Black African culture is “far beyond and centuries ahead” of European culture, of White culture.

      Now that is brassy, even for a Jewess. But how many White teachers and principals who receive Spielberg’s “learning kit” do you believe will have the courage to point out to students that her statement is sheer nonsense — and risk being called “racists” for their honesty? How many, in this age of cowardice, official lies, and Political Correctness?

      Let me tell you something about the hero of Spielberg’s film, the Black leader named Cinqué. He is portrayed as a person of noble character who has been terribly wronged by being enslaved, as a person who is morally offended by the notion of slavery and therefore is morally superior to the Whites who are not offended.

      Well, in the 19th century there actually was a mutinous Black slave named Cinqué who instigated a mutiny and the murder of the White captain and crew of a Spanish ship, was captured by the U.S. Navy, was tried and acquitted — for political rather than legal reasons — by a U.S. court, and then was sent back to Africa. This all really happened. And here’s something else that really happened: when Cinqué got back to Africa, back to Sierra Leone where his home was, he went into business — as a slave dealer, buying and selling his fellow Blacks. Oh, did Mr. Spielberg forget to tell you that? Did his colleague Debbie fail to mention that? Did all of those film reviewers writing so learnedly about Cinqué and his adventures in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other Jewish mass media not have enough room for that little detail?



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