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

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution