BLOOMINGTON — Talk about a tough crowd.
“Lincoln” the movie was about to be shown in Gettysburg, Pa., where the late president made his most famous address.
“The theater (Thursday night) was packed with Lincoln fanatics,” said Bloomington lawyer Guy Fraker, author of a recently released book about Lincoln and one of the “fanatics” in the audience.
You might think the Lincoln lovers, in town for an annual Lincoln Forum Symposium, would be poised to love a Lincoln movie but, Fraker said, “we go into it so critically, so attuned to getting it right.”
When the lights came back on, the crowd was buzzing and everyone seemed pleased, said Fraker, who was surprised by the film’s accuracy. “The detail of that movie is so incredible.”
Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln, “was in the zone,” Fraker said. “He really gets Lincoln as we imagine him to be.”
The verdict was the same from Illinois Wesleyan University professor Robert C. Bray, an author of two books about Lincoln who traveled to Chicago for an early showing of the movie, released nationwide Friday.
“My expectations were almost stratospheric,” Bray said and, for the most part, Day-Lewis met his expectations.
He praised the “historicity” of the film and said that while some scenes might not be explicitly historically accurate, they appeared to be “all well within poetic license.”
But what about the general public, not as immersed in Lincoln lore as book-writing professors and lawyers?
The movie “works on both levels,” Bray said, for those who “are sort of drowning in Lincoln like I am” and for those who are “just curious.”
In a year that also included “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Bray said, “I’m just glad it turned out as good as it is.”
He said, “I hope it will invite the American people to take him seriously again and also think of him as a struggling human being who faced the biggest challenge since George Washington.”
Likewise, Fraker thought “Lincoln” would capture the attention of casual observers.
“I think it will make them realize the genius of Lincoln … and the humanity of Lincoln,” Fraker said. “I would think it will make people want to learn more about him.”
People involved with Lincoln sites across Illinois are counting on that.
“We expect it to have a very positive impact,” said Jeannie Riordan, assistant site manager at the David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington. “We already have seen increased interest with the trailers for the movie.”
Davis, a judge who rode the circuit with Lincoln and helped him on his path to the presidency, is not part of the movie. However, he is mentioned in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” on which the movie is based.
The film focused on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
Bray said actor Tommy Lee Jones “almost stole the movie” with his depiction of radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Steven, who led the fight in the House for passage of the amendment.
Bray thought some of the scenes involving Mary Todd Lincoln didn’t ring true, but Fraker thought their “complicated” relationship and affection was portrayed well.
Fraker saw parallels between today’s Congress and the one faced by Lincoln. “Everybody was dug in then. Some of those people had to reverse themselves,” he said.
Bray said the movie provided “a sense of the dark, claustrophobic, smoke-filled room.”
He thought the movie showed “the core humanity of the man” while it also “demythologizes Lincoln, which is a good thing.”
Bray said, “What people, I hope, will take away from this is the profound depths of Lincoln’s mind, yet the inability to read him.”
- On Jan. 15, 1860, Abraham Lincoln wrote Fernando Jones of Chicago: “Our republican friend, J.W. Fell, of Bloomington, Illinois, can furnish you the materials for a brief sketch of my history, if it be desired.” The same day, he wrote to another Republican, Alonzo J. Grover of Earlville, Ill., about his views on fugitive slave law.
- Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 marked the first time a Republican was elected president.
- The ticking of Lincoln’s watch in the film is the sound of the real Lincoln’s watch, which was recorded in its home at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, Springfield.
- Although every president since George Washington had a cabinet, the members’ titles changed. Lincoln’s cabinet had secretaries of state, treasury, war, navy and interior, the attorney general and the postmaster general.
- Lincoln was very tall and, when he was shot, had to be laid on bed diagonally. In the movie, he lies vertically.
- William McCullough had been clerk of the McLean County Circuit Court, where Lincoln frequently practiced law. On Dec. 23, 1862, Lincoln wrote to Fanny McCullough of Bloomington, regarding her father’s death in a battle near Coffeeville, Miss. “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better,” Lincoln wrote. “You are sure to be happy again...I have had experience enough to know....”
- Many comparisons have been made between Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. JFK’s sister, Jean Ann Kennedy Smith, is listed as “woman shouter” in “Lincoln” movie credits.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book title, “Team of Rivals,” on which the movie was largely based, refers to Lincoln’s cabinet. He filled it with political rivals representing Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers, easterners, westerners, northerners, radicals, and conservatives.