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Sunday June 23rd 2024

Lincoln | 2012

Lincoln filming location: Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia
Lincoln location: the ‘US Capitol’: Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia | Photograph: wikimedia / Anderskev

Not a full-on biopic of the President, but a detailed account of the political machinations, struggles and compromises of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) in balancing his staunch determination to get the13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) passed, with ending the bloody civil war.

Tony Kushner’s script packs a lot in, and if you’re not already familiar with American history and the figures involved, you’ll probably need (at least) a second viewing.

The film was made on many historical locations in Richmond, Virginia, but mainly around the Old Towne of Petersburg, about 25 miles to the south. Sets, including painstakingly detailed recreations of the ‘White House’ and steamboat River Queen interiors, were built in the AMF Building, 8200 Center Path Lane, in Mechanicsville, a few miles north of Richmond.

Lincoln filming location: City Market, Old Street, Petersburg, Virginia
Lincoln filming location: soldiers take their grievances to the President: City Market, Old Street, Petersburg | Photograph: wikimedia / Missvain

The film opens with the aftermath of the battle of ‘Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas’, as two black soldiers pointedly remind Lincoln that, although they now receive equal pay to their white counterparts, there are still no “negro” commissioned officers.

The soldiers are milling about on East Old Street at Rock Street, in front of the octagonal City Market building in Petersburg – which is visible several times throughout the movie. The building's interior is also used toward the end of the film as the HQ of General Ulysses S Grant (Jared Harris) as he receives the results of the crucial voting by telegraph.

Lincoln filming location: Union Station, River Street, Petersburg, Virginia
Lincoln filming location: the flag raising: Union Station, River Street, Petersburg, Virginia | Photograph: wikipedia / Taber Andrew Bain

Just a couple of hundred yards northeast, Lincoln makes a mercifully brief speech at the flag raising in front of Union Station, 103 River Street, representing the ‘Washington DC’ naval department building. The Station’s interior also functioned usefully as the base for the film’s hair, make-up and wardrobe departments.

We’re soon plunged into the murky world of politicking as, with the imminent end of the Civil War, secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) points out that support for the abolition of slavery is likely to evaporate once peace is declared, as they ride in a carriage east on Old Street past North Sycamore Street.

The proposed Amendment has already passed the Senate but doesn’t yet have sufficient backing in the House of Representatives. With this brief opportunity unlikely to come again for a long time, the President faces the dilemma of whether to stave off peace talks with the South until he can rally enough votes to carry the amendment.

Lincoln filming location: Executive Mansion, Richmond
Lincoln filming location: the home of Preston Blair: Executive Mansion, Richmond | Photograph: iStockphoto / photohoo

Lincoln is dependent on the support of conservative founder of the Republican Party Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) – whose price for support is a meeting with the Confederate leadership. Virginia’s Executive Mansion, Governor Street south of Broad Street in Richmond, was used as the exterior of Preston Blair's house. The mansion also supplied the ‘White House’ reception room.

Seward reluctantly takes on the assignment of hiring three fixers to lobby wavering congressmen with all kinds of deals, while keeping the President at arm’s length. The ‘restaurant’ in which he secretly recruits WN Bilbo (James Spader), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) is an upstairs room of 1854 railroad station, the South Side Depot, 37 River Street at Rock Street, just north of the City Market (which you can clearly see from the restaurant’s window). It’s intended to renovate the building to house a visitor’s centre devoted to Petersburg's Civil War history.

Their attempts are not always met with a warm welcome as one irate congressman pulls a gun on Bilbo south of the Market, outside the English-style pub Brickhouse Run, 407-409 Cockade Alley.

Lincoln filming location: House Of Delegates, Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia
Lincoln filming location: Thaddeus Stevens debates the Amendment: House Of Delegates, Virginia State Capitol, Richmond | Photograph: iStockphoto / photohoo

Guaranteed support for the amendment comes from the Radicals, led by uncompromising Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) – who even goes so far as to demand total racial equality. The House of Representatives chamber, where Stevens and his opponent Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) trade insults and generally play to the gallery, is the House of Delegates in Virginia State Capitol, 1000 Bank Street, Richmond. There’s quite a bit of set dressing to turn the quite modern chamber back to its 19th Century appearance.

The capitol’s white-pillared Classical exterior stands in for the ‘US Capitol’, and its grounds also supply the exterior of the ‘White House’ and a military encampment.

After Blair’s return from meeting the Confederates, a deputation from the South arrives at US Army Headquarters at ‘City Point, Virginia’, where the paddle boat River Queen is berthed. The ‘City Point’ docks were recreated at the James River, on private farmland in Goochland.

Lincoln filming location: South Side Depot, River Street, Petersburg, Virginia
Lincoln filming location: Lincoln takes his son, Robert, to the military hospital: South Side Depot, River Street, Petersburg, Virginia | Photograph: wikimedia / Smallbones

Lincoln’s delay in ending the war is heightened by concern for his oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who’s determined to enlist in the fight, and strains relations with his determined wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field).

In a vain attempt to shock Robert into accepting the grim realities of war, Lincoln takes his son to an army hospital, where cartloads of amputated limbs are being dumped. The ‘hospital’ is again Petersburg’s South Side Depot, which earlier provided the ‘restaurant’.

Nevertheless, Robert enlists, and Mary Lincoln forcefully lets her husband know that it’s now up to him to get the amendment passed as soon as possible while they’re attending the opera at the November Theatre, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 West Broad Street, Richmond.

As the deadline for the crucial vote approaches, Lincoln is obliged to negotiate personally with the last few ditherers. The home of self-confessed prejudiced congressman Hutton is the McIlwaine House, 425 Cockade Alley – just north of the Brickhouse Run pub. This Federal-style frame residence was built around 1794, later owned by George H Jones, Mayor of Petersburg, and later still by industrialist and financier Archibald Graham McIlwaine, after whom the house is named. The McIlwaine family lived in the house until it was relocated to its present site in 1971 after being saved from demolition. Living up to his reputation for immersing himself thoroughly in a role, Daniel Day-Lewis slept in the house rather than his trailer during filming.

Ultimately, General Robert E Lee (Christopher Boyer) surrenders at ‘Appomattox Courthouse’, which was recreated on the 100-acre estate of Maymont, 2201 Shields Lake Drive, in Richmond. It’s also through the grounds of Maymont that President and Mrs. Lincoln enjoy a carriage ride as they plan a future that’s not to be.

The real site of the surrender is now the McLean House, in Appomattox Court House National Park.

The film wrongfoots the audience with another theatre scene. It’s not the famous ‘Ford’s Theatre’ but the opera house once again, where Robert receives the news of his father’s assassination.

Although Ford’s Theatre isn’t featured in the movie at all, you can visit the real thing in Washington DCFord’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street NW.