Lincoln (2012)

Forgive me this indulgence, for I am going to suggest Lincoln (2012) could be viewed as a parable for our State’s own politics and the week we are living right here and now.

As West Australians go to the polls on Saturday March 9, they are confronted with slightly crazy similarities between the events of Steven Spielberg’s very good film and the choice available to voters.

Just as Lincoln was a man unlikely to rule after being passed over in the 1850s, the Western Australian Premier was a cast-off political figure before being resurrected at the eleventh hour to lead his party to an unlikely victory at the 2008 State Election.

Just as Lincoln is wise and annoying to many of his own team and especially to his Democrat opponents in the US House of Representatives, so too is Colin Barnett regarded by some low-hanging fruit in the Liberal Party and even more certainly to Labor MPs.

Just as Lincoln had to appoint a cabinet of men from both sides of politics, Barnett cobbled together a Government giving high rank to National Party MPs – who had the bargaining power to call the tune in how best to spend the State’s money – and Independent members who either hated the Liberals or had been booted from the Labor Party and needed a home.


Just as Lincoln had to put up with little or no talent around him from both sides of the House, so too does Barnett stroll in the sometimes wasteland of the Western Australian State Parliament.

Just as Lincoln wanted a vote put through that is a no-brainer when viewed through the filter of the nearly 150 years that have passed since, so Barnett looks to a future of Western Australia that is so obvious to anyone with eyes but being denied by those who don’t want to spend the money or don’t like the way it is being spent and on what it is being spent. In 10 years we will look back and realise just how necessary it was.

…and before those of you who vote Greens ask when the Premier is next going to the theatre, I shall return to the film.

Spielberg has made an American film about an American legend. That he cast an Irishman shouldn’t come as a surprise. Who could you offer to have played the role? Daniel Day Lewis from the moment he comes on screen IS Lincoln; the Lincoln of statues, the Lincoln of coin faces, the Lincoln we know from a distance. 

Without film coverage of the man we cannot pretend to know what Lincoln was like but Day Lewis’ role gives a pretty good take on it and one cannot imagine him going into this unprepared.


He is supported by a superb ensemble cast, notably Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, the woman who history says was wooed by two other men who nearly became president, before settling on the unlikely folksy, fireside-chat lawyer, who did.

Field, who won two Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae (1979) and Places In The Heart (1984), has been one of my favourites since playing stricken Julia Roberts’ mother in Steel Magnolias (1989) and my  heart was warmed to hear fellow club members extolling her ability  (“…you like me…right now…you like me”). It’s a long way from  television (Gidget and The Singing Nun) to playing opposite the finest actor of her era in front of the most celebrated (if not awarded) director of the same period.   She was good.

Another great who appears is Tommy Lee Jones, thrust into the plum role of wise and sarcastic Thaddeus Stevens, a man who wants the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery passed as much as Lincoln.  The man knows his politics and is a perfect conveyor of what the amendment needs to pass – if only he can hold his temper against the scaly opponents to its passage.

Lincoln is political drama/thriller as we watch the lobbying for votes to see slavery abolished while Civil War rages into its fifth year.

Lincoln the man knows the political expedient of getting the amendment passed before war ends but must weigh the terrible slaughter of young men which he may be able to stop sharp with careful peace negotiations. Does it get down to we have lost so many and, by negotiating peace with slavery still in place in the South, why then have all these boys died? More must die to stop slavery, this abomination that must not continue.

All this occurs within a long running time (150 minutes) which wasn’t really hard to take. Perhaps it could have been written for television with eight episodes of 45 minutes and more detail in some of the bit players and their reasons for their vote and their prejudice? Also to briefly examine how Lincoln came to be elected and who he upset along the way to get there.

Trouble is, I cannot imagine Daniel Day Lewis agreeing to play a role for television – and then you may not have had a definitive Lincoln.

Score: 3.75

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