Friday, March 08, 2013


Politics, it has often been remarked, is the art of the possible. Entering politics with a things-to-achieve list one has to assess realistically how much can actually be done and not allow over-reaching to jeopardise the lot. It follows that progress made in politics over the years has always been a matter of falling short of doing the full, what we now know as, good. It is often the opposition taunt at an inadequate bill. But under-reaching can even cause a whole bill to fall so it is important not to attempt too little. How do you pitch it right?

So for me the big star of Lincoln is Tommy Lee-Jones' life-scarred, limping Thaddeus Stevens. Here is a man who has spoken all his political life about equality in all things, who clearly envisions a day when those now slaves are not only free, but have a vote and can stand for office. Will he settle for less than that? Will he pitch it right?

Much of the movie is set in the House of Representatives. Discussions are lively, loud and a little uncontrolled.

Behind the scenes wheeling and dealing is taking place. To get the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution through and abolish slavery requires bribery or promise of future preferment. No Democrat will be persuaded to vote for the measure to end the Civil War if they think the war will end anyway. And the war is limping towards a conclusion. As are its participants, a wheel-barrow of body-parts making as big a point as a twenty minute battlefield scene might. We know Spielberg can do that.

Lincoln needs to work closely with his Commander-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant, to make sure, somehow, that the war doesn't end before the amendment vote. When Lincoln sends a note to the House of Representatives assuring them there is no peace-meeting planned in Washington it is dismissed, in a heckle, as 'a lawyer's truth'. Which is true. It is.

Lincoln is a dialogue-based movie. It is The West Wing set in 1865. The President, Jed Bartlet like, has a story for every occasion and his team grunt their disapproval when he starts on one. They've heard it before. Tables are piled with papers and packages, messages take ages to get through and morse-coded wire transmissions are cutting edge.

I don't know if Day-Lewis' character is well-drawn - my history is too poor - but I do know that the mask he wears never drops, or even droops. Awards deserved.

A bit late on the scenes for a full review of this movie so I'll stop short, the Oscars already having been distributed, but a great film.

And how strange for us liberal lefties to watch a film where the Republicans are the good guys.

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