Review: 'Lincoln'

by Alex Quarrie-Jones

Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
(image source:

One thing that must be instantaneously grasped about Lincoln is that it is butt-numbingly long: Two and a half hours to be precise, not including the useless adverts at the beginning, which chocks the film up to about three hours. Three hours of socio-political talking, stovepipe hats and the best collection of facial hair ever presented in a film. However the length is necessary as it allows the audience to experience in great detail the closing period of Lincoln’s life and the American Civil War.

Counter the traditional biopic of great historical figures, which charts the whole life of the person in question (cradle to coffin, if you will), Lincoln focuses purely on the last four months of his life where Lincoln has to balance the overwhelming desire for a peace with the rebel Confederacy but also his personal campaign to introduce the Thirteenth Amendment: the abolition of slavery in the USA. His problems originate with Congress, who are almost cleanly divided on the correct course of action. A part of the plot requires the procurement of wavering voters in the house which leads to some dubious but honest work by a subtle group of jovial men who rather resemble Shakespearian minstrels as they add a sufficient dose of comic lines to this very political story.
Lincoln’s over-arching success by far is the supremely excellent acting of which the leads portray their figures beautifully. The four main characters, as it were, executed their roles brilliantly with David Strathairn as the loyal realist and sectary of state, William Seward, who had originally been a rival of Lincoln but over the course of the war, becomes his greatest supporter. This is obvious in the way that he has grown so accustomed to Lincoln’s bouts of long moral rhetoric that he avoids their alluring nature. Then there is the powerhouse of acting in Tommy Lee-Jones, who precisely portrays Thaddeus Stevens, a fervent abolitionist and political heavyweight, who commands the presence in a room like an alpha lion. Also Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln certainly demonstrates brilliantly that she is becoming an unstable woman after the death of one of their sons, but it seems that Spielberg toned down the crazy so as not to paint a negative portrayal of Lincoln’s wife.
Finally it is Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln who steals the whole show as every tiny detail from a tilt of the head to his every word captures the exact essence of Lincoln. The physicality of a man, who was almost 6’6’’, is always visible from his slightly ungainly walk to his looming presence. But the true perfection lies in Day-Lewis’ magnificent conveyance of Lincoln’s masterful oratorical, skills with every speech and every parable mirroring the true words of the sixteenth president of the USA. Spielberg also enlightens the audience with a much more human portrayal of Lincoln, with the sub plots focusing on the interactions with his various family members. All of this arriving in an excellent combination demonstrates with the upmost clarity why Lincoln has been nominated for so many awards.
However no film is truly perfect and unfortunately Lincoln comes with some minute but obvious flaws.
Primarily that the context of the film is designed perfectly for specific audiences: those who have prior knowledge of American politics in the Civil War period or Americans, who, in the same way that English schoolchildren learn about the Blitz, have every detail of the Civil War taught to them at a variety of ages. Therefore, this leaves the rest of the audience rather baffled by the political terminology and motivations of some of the characters. Also the film might have served so much better as being forecast as a 10 part mini-series on HBO but obviously the monetary gain would have been significantly lower. But overall the film powers through these with its blend of political squabble, accurate character portrayals and of course, the man himself.   
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: 9/10             


  1. Daniel Day, and the rest of the cast is just amazing, but the one who I was most taken-away from was Spielberg, who plays everything safe, intimate, and very subtle. Something I haven’t seen from the guy in awhile. Good review Alex.

  2. yh good review

  3. Daniel day lewis won loads of oscars

  4. Going to see it soon, worth getting popcorn?

  5. Great review, very accurate and detailed

  6. truly insparational blog i found this very helpfull

  7. Thomas Robertson21 March 2013 at 15:25

    Great review it is just a shame that Daniel doesnt look like the Abraham in photos from his time


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