Ah, the wonders of Hollywood: Billy Campbell goes from playing a stubborn farmer diametrically opposed to Abraham Lincoln in the soon-to-be-released Copperhead, to portraying the president himself, in the upcoming television film, Killing Lincoln, airing on National Geographic next month, based on a book by Bill O’Reilly. This will serve as the network’s first ever scripted drama, while there will be some narration, provided by Tom Hanks. Though I have only seen the trailer, released yesterday, I must say that my hopes now are a little bit higher than they were when this project was first announced, mainly because the same producer (Ridley Scott) and director (Adrian Moat) gave us that brutally awful Gettysburg documentary for the History Channel last year. I shuddered to think at the same duo handling another portion of American history. However, after reading the script (which was current at the time I read it) several months ago, and because Nat-Geo is still reputable (at least more so than the other network), I will be willing to give this a shot, and them the benefit of the doubt.
Although this was originally going to be a docudrama, it now appears that this will just be straight up drama. Billy Campbell does look quite convincing as Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse Johnson could definitely pass for John Wilkes Booth. What caught my attention in this trailer, though, was the treatment of Booth. This is one of the most misunderstood characters in American history, and a man that people would rather condemn as a lunatic without wanting to learn more about him. Gods and Generals was the first step in portraying him as a normal man who happened to have misguided passions, in showing his politics intermixed with his enthralling Shakespearean performances in the newly added 2011 footage, but for the most part, he has always been just a caricature of evil. It appears that Killing Lincoln is going to dare to take a more inconvenient route, with Johnson saying he will be shown as, “…misguided, wrong, but not crazy”. This is very important for our understanding of him, to see that it was anger that caused him to kill a president, not craziness without thought.