I was glad I read the brief biography Abraham Lincoln by Senator George S. McGovern before watching Steven Spielberg's Lincoln on DVD. It helped to identify the players and also sort out some of the political shenanigans in 1865 that surrounded passage of the Thirteenth Amendment that Lincoln fought so hard to get passed.
That is the amendment that abolished slavery in America.
The movie draws from Doris Kearns Goodwins' A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I have not read it. (Good Grief! It runs to 944 pages in paperback.) Basically it looks at the choices that Lincoln made to fill his cabinet and his relationship with those men. (And of course they were all men...)
Although I am not a reviewer, I will give you some of my impressions of the movie. It was long -- two-and-a-half hours. It was dark, and dusty, and full of whiskers. All the men had lots of facial hair - long, gray beards, bushy mustaches, or Elvis-worthy sideburns.
Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as a stooped, reedy-voiced, complicated, troubled, weary, melancholy man. Sally Field plays his always-on-the-verge-of-hysteria wife, Mary. She wears the same ugly necklace throughout the entire movie. Tommy Lee Jones (one of my favorite actors) is the radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stephens who has to wear a horrible brown wig that made my head itch even to look at it.
You can see that my reviewing skills are quite shallow. But what I did take away from the movie was the understanding of the many challenges (not nearly a strong enough term) that the president, man, father, husband, friend, and leader of the military had to face. Stuff was coming at him from all sides. One son is dead and another wants to join the Union Army and go off to war. His wife can't see beyond her own grief. The ineffectual Union military commanders have prolonged the war and now, after four years of fighting, six hundred thousand men are dead. His cabinet is divided. The House of Representatives is divided. The country is divided.
All Lincoln wants to do is end slavery, end the war, and save the Union. Quite a heavy to-do list, wouldn't you say?
It is helpful to know a bit about Lincoln's early life as some of that is referenced in the movie (which takes place over the four or five months before his assassination on April 14, 1865) and it was good to know that background.
This movie certainly gave me a different look at The Man Who Saved the Union than the portrait of a fence-mending, backwoods lawyer that was taught to us in school. And it is one well worth watching.