Daniel Day-Lewis made history by picking up a record-breaking third Best Actor Oscar for his leading role in Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s epic drama about America’s most revered president.
And he gives a truly astonishing performance as Abraham Lincoln, his voice (an unexpectedly reedy tenor), gait and bearing creating a compelling and utterly credible portrait.
Spielberg’s movie only covers the last few months in Lincoln’s life, focusing on his struggle to get the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, through an obstructive House of Representatives while beyond Washington the Civil War still rages.
The film’s chief concern is the backrooms where politicians wheel and deal rather than the battlefield, although the opening scene does briefly depict the mud and blood of soldiers conducting savage hand-to-hand combat with brutal immediacy.
At the film’s heart, Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is shrewd, folksy and idealistic. He’s also a troubled family man, struggling to deal with his depressive wife (Oscar-nominated Sally Field) and fretful eldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The supporting cast is excellent too, with a gallery of fine character actors lurking behind profusions of period-authentic facial hair. David Strathairn is wry realist William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, and Tommy Lee Jones (also Oscar-nominated) is radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens. Former 1980s heartthrob James Spader pops up, bewhiskered and portly, as a grubby lobbyist seeking to ensure Lincoln gets the votes he needs.
Much of this is fascinating, and the actual vote on the Amendment proves surprisingly gripping, but elsewhere Spielberg is overly worthy, lapsing into moments of sentimentality that undermine Day-Lewis’s magnificent, credibly flesh-and-blood Lincoln.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD on Monday 10th June by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.