American Experience: Season 13, Episode 7

Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided Part 1 - Ambition (19 Feb. 2001)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, History
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Ratings: 8.4/10 from 117 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 2 critic

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Episode credited cast:
Abraham Lincoln (voice)
Mary Lincoln (voice)
David McCullough ...
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jean Harvey Baker ...
David Herbert Donald ...
Herself (interviewee)
Union Infantryman (as Kevin Hershberger)
David E. Long ...
Donald Miller ...
Mary Genevieve Murphy ...
Mark E. Neely Jr. ...
Union Infantryman (as Timothy Smith)
Charles B. Strozier ...
Linda Levitt Turner ...


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Release Date:

19 February 2001 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

Familiar Abe, but Mary is a revelation
9 January 2004 | by (Greenwich Village, NY, USA) – See all my reviews

I watched all 6 hours of this, and loved most every minute, but especially the portrayal of Mary Lincoln. It must have taken a lot of research to be able to compose such a complete portrait of this desperate, love-starved, and ultimately loony woman.

Holly Hunter's voice was very different from how I would have expected Mary to sound, but it did give her a sense of place (she was from Kentucky) and a much more girlish sound than usual. Watching Mary's rise to ecstasy and descent into self-pity is like being on a roller-coaster. And you feel sympathy for her, but want to slap her and say, "get it together, girl."

The documentarian's technique was thoroughly familiar--strictly the Ken Burns school, but that's not bad. The on-camera retellers were well-chosen--the best was David Herbert Donald, an excellent writer, and wizened old screen presence. He's the one who most gives the impression that he was there, and that he knew first-hand what was happening. Another particularly good story-teller was a woman identified as "Todd family friend." She had a real feeling for the story of the Todd family.

There was a lot of the same footage over and over--one that I kept noticing was a shot from "deep in the woods," used to dramatize slaves fleeing north, and soldiers going into difficult campaigns. Lots of shots of the mouths of cannons, as well. So what? I would have preferred some more maps of the area--show where Antietam is in relation to D.C. and Richmond, show where the wilderness is. But that's my preference. The show was mostly about Mary and Abe growing up, finding each other, their travails and their demise. It was a successful and engrossing presentation.

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