Thanks to a source involved with the production of the Ridley & Tony Scott-produced documentary slated for a 2013 release on National Geographic titled Killing Lincoln, I was able to view the working script over the last couple of days so I could give an early opinion on what this special is going to be like. When I first posted about this a few months ago, I noted how I had only skimmed through parts of the book, written by Bill O’Reilly, and mentioned how entertaining I thought it was, though one could tell it was not authored by a historian. I did not think it was bad, until some glaring historical inaccuracies were pointed out to me. Nevertheless, this documentary has a chance to fix some of those errors, while giving us a dose of both history and entertainment, not sacrificing one for the other. While I have taken a look at my fair share of film scripts, this was definitely a new experience for me because of insertions of voice-over narrations and breaks in the action for historians to come into the frame and speak. It took a while to get used to.
Overall, I was really not too impressed with the actual script, but given that this is a docudrama and not a feature film, it could work out depending on how well the historians are integrated into the grand scheme of things. Who they use and what they tell us will make or break this special, that is, unless this draft changes drastically from now until filming, something that could very well happen. The one thing I do like is the portrayal of John Wilkes Booth, as his scenes (which will include a depiction of him acting Richard III on stage) show us that while he may be a little bit off in the head due to misguided passions, he is shown with the feeling that he thinks he is right, with actual rationale of striking down a tyrant present in his lines. He does not seem psychotic, and this is refreshing to see. One can only watch so many evil, villainous portrayals of Booth before they get turned off, no matter what you may think of him. We must remember that these players of history were all human, and we can also see Abraham Lincoln as such due to his portrayal here, which includes a nice scene of him sitting for that famous photograph taken by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan just a few days before he was killed.
This is just an early opinion of a project in its very early stages, and like I said before, this draft could change a hundred times from now until filming. However, if they do stay along the lines of what they have presented here, I don’t think people will be too disappointed. It was pretty difficult to gauge the historical accuracy as of right now because I am not an expert on the assassination, and because the dialogue between the actors is very speculative. People will be asking, “Will this be along the lines of the Gettysburg atrocity?” My answer at the moment is no. There will be many historians eager to get their hands in on this project, as they were with the above mentioned documentary. My advice to the filmmakers is to use them—use what they say and make it work. Don’t just do whatever you want for the sake of high ratings and completely ignore their commentary, with the exception of propping them up for a minute here and there for the sake of it being advertised as a documentary. I think this project has a lot of promise, and I am eager to follow its journey from page to television screen.