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Regarded as one of the finest leaders of American history and a true champion of civil rights, Abraham Lincoln is celebrated as more than just the 16th President of the United States. Historians examine the difficult leadership choices of Lincoln's turbulent first term, as well as his bouts with depression and troubled marriage to Mary Todd. Experts untangle a web of murder and kidnapping plots to learn the truth about the complex conspiracy that made Lincoln an American martyr when he was assassinated in 1865.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you saw this biography out of context as a TV show one night, you might dismiss it as a formulaic regurgitation of Abraham Lincoln's life. And while it is that in some respects, it assumes greater validity and context when seen as a post-script to Steven Spielberg's film, Lincoln. (This DVD is released in Australia the day before Lincoln opens in cinemas.)

I suggest this is supplementary viewing to Lincoln only because the film creates the interest and drama that this doco feeds on. On its own, too, Preserving the Union offers well researched information about Lincoln, from his tough life as a child (his mother died when he was 8, his uneducated father beat him and treated him harshly, he only had one year of formal education - but taught himself....) through his extraordinary political career which he launched at age 23, running for the Illinois State Assembly; he failed that year, but was elected two years later. It was here he took his first unpopular stand against slavery.

Presented in standard issue doco format with extracts from Lincoln's letters and speeches (read by an actor), academics, biographers and historians adding to the narrated story, Preserving the Union is a thorough work. We even get to hear the titillating story of how Mary Todd is said to have seduced him whereupon Lincoln urged marriage - the next day. Sure enough their first son Robert was born just shy of 9 months later.

The film deals with his depression, his ambition to be 'esteemed', his fiery marriage to a neurotic Mary and his excellent people skills - skills which he wrangled to good use, especially in the four crucial months of 1865 depicted in Spielberg's film, when Lincoln focused on getting the 13th Amendment passed to end slavery - and the civil war.

Perhaps the most surprising thing we learn here is that while Lincoln was morally outraged by slavery, he didn't envisage "negroes to fully integrate into white society". His original view was that slavery was wrong, but the two races should live apart. He gradually changed his view.

NB: The origins of this doco as a Biography Channel program is evident at the end, as the promo for their next day's program (Nov. 5, 1996) has not been deleted. It is about "our next President, the winner of today's election." And there's Bob Dole and Bill Clinton ....with Al Gore.

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(US, 1996)

CAST: Documentary

PRODUCER: Martin Gillam

DIRECTOR: Bill Harris

SCRIPT: Not credited

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Waymack, Paul Dougherty, Richard Numeroff

EDITOR: Michael W. Andrews, Margaret Moore, Steve Pomerantz

MUSIC: Christopher L. Stone with Zeljko Marasovich


RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Beyond Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 6, 2013

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