I admit it – I was prejudiced against the new Lincoln movie.
The Stephen Spielberg movie has been in the works so long – with so many cast changes – I lost interest in it.
The lovely Liam Neeson – who first was cast as Lincoln – visited Hodgenville several years ago to prepare for the role. He got sidetracked on several unmemorable projects (Seraphim Falls, really?) and decided he was too old to play the 16th President. I knew – beyond doubt – that his replacement, Daniel Day-Lewis, could not do justice to the project. (And I remain sullen that he did not visit LaRue County.)
I knew – beyond doubt – that I would like the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter more for that very reason.
But I was wrong on both counts.
Day-Lewis was wonderful in the role, as was Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln. Fields portrayed Mary Todd’s intelligence, grief and downright loopiness to almost scary perfection.
There is a scene where Mary Todd greets Thaddeus Stevens (played by the always-solid Tommy Lee Jones) as he entered the White House. She picked him apart with sarcasm, all the while smiling and peeking over her fan like a coquette. No one else could have pulled that off like Fields.
It was the first movie I’ve watched in years where many in the audience applauded as the credits rolled.
My husband Bud and I weren’t expecting a packed house during a Saturday matinee. It surprised us how quickly the theater filled. A lady sitting beside us said the movie was sold out Friday night.
The movie, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” looped you in as the boys in the U.S. House of Representatives bickered over state’s rights and slavery; young Tad drove his goat cart through the halls of the White House; and Abraham told a memorable story about Ethan Allen, George Washington and an outhouse.
It was just one of several times in the film the audience laughed at Lincoln’s stories and jokes.
Those moments broke up the seriousness of other themes in the movie dealing with death, war and human rights.
I learned a few things while watching the movie. A lobbyist named Bilbo? He really existed.
James Spader was a hoot as Bilbo – and also a disappointment. Bilbo blurted out a vulgarity that was completely out of place for this movie. There are a number of other words that could have expressed his surprise at the appearance of Lincoln in his home. It wasn’t funny and it took away from the rest of the film.
Another surprise: The U.S. Representative from Kentucky, George Helm Yeaman, who was pressured by the lobbyists, was born in Hardin County just a few miles from Lincoln’s Birthplace. He was a Democrat and Union sympathizer but believed giving freedom to the slaves would bring economic downfall to the slave states.
Yeaman changed his vote to “yea” on the 13th Amendment.
The Hardin County Historical Society’s winter 2005 publication contains an article about Yeaman.
He was the son of Stephen Yeaman and Lucretia Helm Yeaman, sister of Gov. John Helm. The family lived near Bethlehem Academy on part of the Helm family farm.
George studied law, like his father. He and his brother Malcolm moved to Owensboro where he was elected judge.
He served as a representative from 1862 to 1865. His “friendship” with Abraham Lincoln (or his vote change, if the movie is correct) led to his appointment as minister to Denmark. Vice President Andrew Johnson fulfilled the appointment after Lincoln’s assassination.
When Yeaman returned to the states, he lived in New York, where he lectured on constitutional law. He eventually moved to New Jersey where he lived until his death at the age of 78.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is Lincoln’s explanation (I had to Google for the correct wording – don’t you love Google?) of Euclid’s common notion:
“’Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.’ That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident. You see, there it is. Even in that 2,000-year-old book of mechanical law, it is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”
That was the way Lincoln’s mind worked – he was blessed with common sense.
(And where did that common sense go? It must have skipped a few generations.)
Bottom line: Good movie – it’s worth the ticket price and the two-and-a-half hour investment.