Friday, November 23, 2012

Spielberg's "Lincoln"

By Mary Claire Kendall

Mary Todd Lincoln
The earliest known daguerreotype of her, 
taken c.1864 by Nicholas H. Shepherd. 
Source: Roger Norton Photo Gallery

Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln is superb. 

There is just one very major flaw: Sally Field, age 66, played Mary Todd Lincoln, age 46, and it didnt work—at all. Field looks every bit her 65 years (age when filming), which is not a bad thing, except when you are playing a 46 year old: It’s simply not believable that she could be the mother of then ten year old Tad or the wife/lover of the then 55/56 year old president—exactly Daniel Day-Lewis’  age—when the war was winding down and he was working to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives. Every time Field was part of a scene I found myself going, eh gad. 

Why Spielberg made this most unfortunate casting decision is a mystery. The only thing I can figure out is he thought it would work because Lincoln had aged 10 years by that time. But, having a wife who matched her real age would have had the effect of making Lincoln look older, which is the whole point: the war had been hell and his aged face showed it. 

Still of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Credit: DreamWorks.

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer. She writes a regular column for, most recently “Doolittle’s Raiders And The Miracle That Saved Them.”