Like many of you I am looking forward to seeing Speilberg’s film, Lincoln. There is quite a buzz, which I hope translates into a good showing at the box office. As long as we don’t get carried away with critiquing the film along the narrow lines of historical accuracy we should be just fine. I am hoping Daniel Day-Lewis presents us with a sympathetic portrayal of Lincoln that is placed within a solid historical context. I am not looking for nor do I desire a scholarly treatment of Lincoln. First and foremost, I want to be entertained. I plan on writing a review for the Atlantic and I have agreed to take part in a roundtable discussion that will appear at some point in the journal, Civil War History.
I am also looking forward to seeing what Sally Field does with Mary Todd. If anyone deserves a sympathetic treatment it’s Mary Todd and after listening to Field reflect on her character I am confident that this is just what we will see. It would have been easy to present the popular view of an unstable woman, who caused her husband nothing but trouble. Remember Mary Tyler Moore in the TV adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln? This is still a common theme in the Lincoln literature as well. Back in 2007 I taught an elective on Lincoln, which included a couple of classes on Mary Todd. Students examined a number of secondary sources including an essay by Jean H. Baker in which she offers her own interpretation of why this particular view continues to hold sway.