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With forewords by Steven Spielberg and his producing partner Kathleen Kennedy, together with an afterword by Tony Kushner, this sumptuously illustrated volume introduces the general reader to the host of players who surrounded Lincoln as he struggled to bring in the thirteenth amendment and to the production of the film “Lincoln” which is already out in the States and due it’s British release next week.  The book, too, is due for release next week.

It is an absolute must read for both Civil War buffs and film fans.

The book is divided into two separate but connected parts.  The first tells us the story of the American Civil War introducing the main characters in real life and as they are portrayed by the actors in the film.  It is immediately clear the effort that Spielberg has gone to, to match his actors to their originals.  The physical resemblances are astonishing.  The whole section here, as throuhout the book generally, is lavishly illustrated with contemporary prints, photographs, cartoons, posters and bills.

David Rubel, the author has a dozen books on American history to his name, and gives us a detailed but accessible swing through the backgrounds, times and the arguments on both sides leading through the war to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Spielberg, of course, has used Doris Goodwin’s critically acclaimed “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” as the basis of the film.

It is the build-up to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, and on to Lincoln’s death which is the focus of the film and this is extensively detailed with lavish stills from the film.

The second part is, for me, even more gripping, as the author tells how the film itself was created in all its meticulous, even obsessional, detail.  American historical drama, especially in  Hollywood films has too often met with poor crits in Europe where they are often accused of being anachronistic, badly acted and poorly researched, when they are not just plain, downright wrong.  With “Lincoln”, they need not worry. The book shows this was never going to be some cheap sloppy historical re-enactment in the “Black Shield of Falworth” manner.  The reader is taken on a tour de force through costume, lighting, sound, and props.  Oh the props section…

Anyone who has had any experience in theatre, from the school play or am-dram upwards, will appreciate this.

Nothing was left to chance, with Spielberg arranging for re-runs of contemporary stationery to strew the desks, ordering the making of old wallpaper and undertaking endless visits to flea markets and antique shops to source original props.  Entire rooms were researched from contemporary records and then rebuilt for the film.  Lincoln’s library is recreated with editions placed back on the shelves in the order he would have known them.  Even ambient sound is recreated.  I especially liked the anecdote that the tick of Lincoln’s pocket watch was specially recorded from the original, so that when you hear it in the film it is the real article.

Lincoln, in America, can inhabit a slightly mythical place in her history.  Spielberg in “Lincoln” makes Lincoln the man more evident, becoming in front of us a real figure, struggling with all the contradictions and pressures of his day.

Clothes were researched from surviving examples and then reproduced down to the stitching.  Lincoln’s personal lack of interest in what he wore is also there, with frayed cuffs and soup-stained shirts.

Hair and make-up are discussed in depth too.  The shape, cut and texture, hat flattened and not quite as clean as today, greasy with Macassar oil, it’s all there.

We are being told that in the fight for real books over the Kindle electronic variety, publishers today need to raise their game in terms of the book as an art object.  Well Disney has most certainly risen to the challenge.  The production quality of this book is stunning; it is a delight to hold.  It is a large book and definitely in the coffee table section.  It even smells like a book should!  It would be a perfect gift for the history or cinema buff or any good educational library.

Copyright David Macadam 2013