The Great Emancipator Set for the Silver Screen

lincolnApart from Henry King’s “Wilson” and Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” and “W.”, it’s hard to recall very many notable films based on presidents, both living and former. It’s difficult to see why. As English Bob might have said in “Unforgiven”, no one is traumatized by the sight of a president, much less one seen on screen (Helen Mirren’s portrayal in “The Queen”, however, might have been apocryphal in retrospect had it not been so good).

Now, in the spirit of “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp”, Variety reports that Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford are set to direct dueling Lincoln films. It seems strange to release both of them now, so close together, but Redford’s vision should prove to be quite different: “Lincoln as a subject is inexhaustible,” as Spielberg said.

“The Conspirator”, as Redford’s version is called, will star James McAvoy and Robin Wright Penn and focus on a woman charged with conspiring to kill Lincoln – presumably Mary Surratt, who had interesting but troubled connections with John Wilkes Booth. After the failure of “Lions for Lambs”, Redford’s movie is being funded outside the studio system by Joe Ricketts.

Meanwhile, Liam Neeson has been cast in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” since 2005. The script, which is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” and examines the president during the what must have seemed like the nation’s most terminal hours, is currently being rewritten by Tony Kushner. It is scheduled to be released in 2011.