Three hundred gathered over the past weekend in Gettysburg for the Lincoln Forum, a morning-to-night education on President Abraham Lincoln and the people of importance to him. One day in advance of the nationwide opening of the Civil War epic “Lincoln,” forum members screened the movie.
It was as tough an audience as any who will see Steven Spielberg’s latest film. Scattered in the audience were some of the top Lincoln scholars in the country, as well as others who were experts on Mary Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
In general, they loudly applauded the script and the portrayal of Lincoln by Daniel Day-Lewis , but there were also weak spots, such as the casting of Grant and the occasional mangling of the historic record to meet the needs of the film.
Forum Vice Chairman Harold Holzer, who has written or edited more than 40 books on Lincoln, was delighted with the movie. “I loved it,” he said. “Day-Lewis captured Lincoln as the brilliant politician he was, who knew how to draw to the table everyone he needed and he showed his great physicality. Lincoln did lose his temper; he was tightly wrapped and explosive.”
However, he said, the way the vote for the 13th Amendment was depicted in the House of Representatives was wrong. The roll call was, and is, always done alphabetically and not by state.
Mary Lincoln has always been a controversial figure, often seen as a narcissist who was a burden to Lincoln. Forum speaker Catherine Clinton presented a more sympathetic Mary in her authoritative biography on Mary Lincoln, “Mrs. Lincoln: A Life.” Clinton said she was “completely mesmerized by the film’s ability to capture Mary’s complexity. Her brief appearances were full and deep and added so much meaning, so we can better understand the bond she shared with Lincoln.”
She pointed to one inaccuracy in the movie, the scene where Lincoln slapped his son Robert. It never happened, she said.
For the executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant association John Marszalek, the casting of Grant was a disappointment.
“He wasn’t that tall,” the forum speaker said. “His hair was too red and he wasn’t that aggressive. He was also too talkative. He would never have talked that much.”
However, he still thought the movie excellent and said he planned to see it again.