Differing Portrayals of the Great Emancipator: “To Appomattox” and Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Biopic

As pre-production continues on the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox, filming has recently begun on Lincoln, a biopic about Union President Abraham Lincoln from Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg. Both projects will feature Lincoln as a major character, as he struggles with the events of the war, and some of the policies he put forth during his time in office. How different will the portrayal of Lincoln be in each film? While neither project is near completion, there is some information that sheds light on how Lincoln will be portrayed in each project, and the two acclaimed actors who have been cast to play one of America’s most historic, and most debated, Commander-in-Chiefs.

Stephen Lang: The Lincoln of "To Appomattox"

For the upcoming miniseries, the producers have cast acclaimed stage, film and television star Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals, Tombstone, FOX’s “Terra Nova”) as Lincoln. The series covers the events leading up to the American Civil War, and the four years of the war itself. And according to Writer and Executive Producer Michael Frost Beckner, Lincoln will be a very important character in the series. This gives the production a chance to possibly look at the evolutionary character of Lincoln, who was not too keen on ending slavery at first. His main goal at the outset of the war was to preserve the Union. But as the war progressed, he finally chose to make ending slavery a war aim. The program may also give us a look at how the war physically and mentally drained Lincoln, who seemed to age twenty years in his short tenure in office. Mr. Lang definitely has his work cut out for him with such a fascinating character. But based on his talents, it is certain that he will give nothing short of an exceptional performance.

Daniel Day-Lewis: Spielberg's "Lincoln."

Originally, the Spielberg film had Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) attached to play Lincoln, but dropped out because he felt too old to portray the character. He has been replaced by Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Last of the Mohicans) as the 16th President of the United States. Spielberg has mentioned that the film, based in part on Pulitzer Prize-winner Doris Kearns Goodwin’s acclaimed book Team of Rivals, will cover the final months of Lincoln’s presidency, focusing on the final battles of the war, and the President’s involvement in laying the foundations for the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the United States. While this will not have the broad focus of To Appomattox, it will focus on the time in Lincoln’s life when the war was ending, and his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet. This is definitely a fascinating period of the war to look at, and Mr. Day-Lewis has the talent to portray Lincoln in what will certainly be a fascinating film.

Regardless of the approach that both projects are taking to the subject matter, both To Appomattox and Lincoln have the chance to take a serious and historically accurate look at a man who continues to be a source of controversy and acclaim by historians and Civil War enthusiasts. Both projects have amassed exceptional talent both in front of and behind the camera, including two powerhouse actors to portray the 16th President of the United States. When the projects reach their respective screens in 2012 and 2013, we shall see which one not only gets the history right, but how each will look at the man who helped change the course of American history for decades to come.

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About Steven Hancock

I am an avid student of American and World History, with a particular interest in the American Civil War. I am currently a student at American Public University, working toward a Master's Degree in United States History. I am also a Civil War Reenactor, donning the uniform of the common Union and Confederate soldier at reenactments throughout the year.
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3 Responses to Differing Portrayals of the Great Emancipator: “To Appomattox” and Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Biopic

  1. Both of these actors will be great in their own right. Looking forward to both! These are two of the greatest actors of our generation.

    • No doubt both will give fantastic performances. However, Mr. Lang is more dynamic of an actor, and has nailed every character I have seen him perform as. Mr. Day-Lewis has been great too, but I’ve only seen a couple of films with him in it.

  2. Gettysbuff says:

    ok i’m a little late here, lol. Don’t know how i missed this!

    Anyway, as i have seen all of Day-Lewis’ films i can tell you with serious conviction that he is one of the most transformative performers that i have ever seen. I have complete confidence in his ability to realistically portray Lincoln. Stephen Lang is also a great actor but i would have to put him in 2nd place as he hasn’t really done that many films and so it is hard for me to say how good he could actually be. Don’t get me wrong, in the few roles that he has had he has definitely shined, but i’m not sure i see him as Lincoln. Robert E Lee, yes…but not Lincoln. However he definitely has the skill to do a decent job but i just think Day-Lewis may have the upper hand here.

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