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SALT LAKE CITY— Steven Spielberg's new film “Lincoln” is a brilliant exploration of the last few months in the life of America's 16th and greatest president. With powerful performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and David Strathairn, a thrilling exploration of the difficulties of practical politics, and powerful direction from Spielberg, “Lincoln” reminds us just how useful film can be to introducing people to the complexities of history.
In honor of the release of “Lincoln,” the following is a list of five films that, while not always 100 percent historically accurate, nevertheless succeed in presenting the problems and scope of the American Civil War era. Like “Lincoln,” these films have the power to pique interest in America's history and hopefully inspire viewers to learn more about the Civil War.
John Huston's 1951 classic “The Red Badge of Courage” examines the ideas of courage and cowardice in battle that all men face, and leaves viewers asking uncomfortable questions about just how they would fare under fire. Based upon the classic novel by Stephen Crane, “The Red Badge of Courage” stars real-life World War II hero Audie Murphy as the Youth who runs from combat, then struggles with his decision and seeks redemption.
“Andersonville,” directed by John Frankenhiemer, is a dramatic re-creation of the horrid Confederate POW camp in Andersonville, Ga. The camp was little more than a stockade with guard towers, offering no shelter for the prisoners. A single stream ran through the camp, where soldiers were expected to bathe, go to the bathroom and draw drinking water. Frankenhiemer's 1996 film includes the famous trial of Union prisoners accused of preying upon their fellow inmates. Starring William Sanderson, William H. Macy and Jan Triska, “Andersonville” illustrates the horrors that often awaited soldiers after the battlefield.
A TV mini-series trilogy rather than a single film, 1985's “North & South” is based upon John Jake's novels and details the lives of two families during the Civil War era. Though delving into the realm of soap opera from time to time, “North & South” nevertheless presents the fundamental attitudes of Americans at the time. The issues of slavery and secession are explored in all of their complexities, albeit in a highly dramatized, entirely fictional story. Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley and James Read star.
Based upon Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Killer Angels,” Ronald F. Maxwell's 1993 film “Gettysburg” depicts the crucial battle of the American Civil War. The film details the decision-making process of Robert E. Lee as he alters his initial strategy and decides to go on the offensive when his army encounters a Union force by chance at Gettysburg, Pa. The film goes into great detail exploring Col. Joseph Chamberlain's heroic defense of Little Round Top and the Confederate army's disastrous Pickett's Charge. The film stars Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels and Tom Berenger.
Robert Redford's 2011 film “The Conspirator” dramatizes the events following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Frederick Aiken, a young Army colonel and lawyer, is recruited to defend Mary Surrat, one of the conspirators in the murder of Lincoln. Dealing with issues of political expediency in a time of national emergency, “The Conspirator” offers an important reminder of the necessity for justice in our current war on terror. James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Tom Wilkinson star.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: email@example.com