Abraham Lincoln is not an American, decides Spielberg

Patriots 'will be unhappy' that their most admired president will be portrayed in movie by a Briton

Steven Spielberg is expected to cause controversy in the US with his choice, announced this weekend, of Daniel Day-Lewis to play Abraham Lincoln in a biopic of one of America's best-loved leaders.

In taking the role of the 16th President of the United States, Day-Lewis becomes the latest in a string of Britons who have elbowed past their American counterparts to take plum presidential roles. Anthony Hopkins has played two White House incumbents: John Quincy Adams in Amistad in 1997 and Richard Nixon in the 1995 biopic Nixon. Michael Gambon has also had a go as leader of the free world, playing Lyndon B Johnson in 2002 in Path to War; and Kenneth Branagh was Franklin D Roosevelt in the 2005 HBO movie Warm Springs.

Even the original contender for Spielberg's film, titled Lincoln, was not an American. When the director first signed the project to Dreamworks in 2001, Irishman Liam Neeson was pencilled in to play the part. But four months ago Neeson withdrew from the project, saying he was, at 58, already two years older than Lincoln was when he was assassinated.

Day-Lewis, 53, who has two Oscars, for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood, is regarded by the film maker as a more than adequate substitute. "Daniel Day-Lewis would have always been counted as one of the greatest of actors, were he from the silent era, the golden age of film or even some time in cinema's distant future," Spielberg said in a statement. "I am grateful and inspired that our paths will finally cross with Lincoln."

Filming is expected to start in autumn next year ahead of a release in 2012, though some have speculated it may be held over until 2013 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

The film will be based on the book Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which follows the in-fighting between Lincoln and his cabinet during the US Civil War. The screenplay has already been written by Tony Kushner.

Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire, a history of Britain's involvement in the civil war, believes that casting a Briton as the national hero could cause offence. "I think people are going to be upset. We're talking about one of the most famous presidents in America's history... There'll be much agony about this. Selling the idea to the American public that there was no American actor who could play Lincoln will be hard."

Commenting on the string of British actors who have played US presidents, Scott Lucas, professor of American studies at the University of Birmingham, said: "Film is international when you're talking about the top directors and actors – they transcend nationality."

He added that in the case of some presidents British vowels might actually be helpful, as, generations ago, the British and US accents would not have been far apart. "If you take John Quincy Adams, for example, his voice would not sound like a modern American accent."

Britons in the White House

Many distinguished British actors have been called on to play the President of the United States for the big screen.

Dan O'Herlihy was one of the first from the British Isles, playing Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1977 film MacArthur.

Spielberg has form in casting Brits as American leaders; his choice of Anthony Hopkins to play John Quincy Adams in the 1997 film Amistad was vindicated when the actor was nominated for an Oscar.

Hopkins's previous presidential portrayal, of Richard Nixon in the 1995 film Nixon, earned him an Oscar.

Michael Gambon has also ruled the free world, as Lyndon B Johnson in Path to War, 2002. He followed Donald Moffat, who played Johnson in The Right Stuff (1983).

Even quintessentially English Kenneth Branagh has taken to the Oval Office, as Franklin D Roosevelt in the 2005 film Warm Springs.

Susannah Butter

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea