Based on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book of the same name, Killing Lincoln recounts one of the darkest events in American history, and details how one gunshot changed the country forever. Originally aired on The National Geographic Channel in February of 2013, the docudrama attracted 3.4 million viewers, making it the networks highest rated show to date.

Narrated by Tom Hanks and produced by Ridley Scott and his late brother, Tony, things unfold similar to a typical History Channel special. Events are re-enacted, and some suspense is built, but it’s a pretty straight telling of the proceedings. The biggest difference between typical History Channel productions and Killing Lincoln is the high quality of the acting. While Killing Lincoln does have moments of exaggeration, the fact the actors involved in the production have fairly impressive resumes adds additional authenticity to the production.

Killing LincolnBilly Campbell (The Killing) plays Lincoln. Campbell’s portrayal of the President is somewhat understated; a kind gentle man, kind to his cabinet members and former slaves. Mary Todd Lincoln (Geraldine Hughes, Gran Torino) is portrayed as an amiable and loving wife and mother, with barely a hint of the mental instability that has been so widely noted.

John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson, Redline) is portrayed as loud and an overly dramatic. Since Booth was an actor by trade, this may make sense for the character, a man with an ego and great love for the South and its traditions. As Killing Lincoln tells it, Booth is criminal mastermind and leader of the hit squad, and a dominating personality.

While Lincoln is portrayed as virtually flawless—even shown as being very friendly toward Secretary of State Seward (Ted Johnson, Lincoln), laid up in bed from a carriage accident. Even though cursory research would tell you that the two men didn’t get along at all—Booth is portrayed as a man just short of a devil. This makes for entertaining viewing, even if it’s exaggerated. The narration admits to being a bit sketchy on some events, never claiming everything is the truth.

Overall, Killing Lincoln could be better, but it could be a lot worse. If you don’t know anything about the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination, this film may be a good place to start. However, don’t use it as your only source of information. For those of you who know the story well, it comes across as embellished in places, so it might be best avoided.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a bit unpredictable when it comes to sharpness, running the gambit from spot-on to soft throughout. Color isn’t particularly vivid, which gives an ‘older’ look to the proceedings, and depth is minimal.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a solid one. Occasional split effects are noticeable during action sequences, and the music by David Buckley is nicely spread to both front and rear speakers. Dialogue a narration come through the center channel very nicely.

English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.

The following special features are available:

  • Commentary: Executive producer and screenwriter Erik Jendresen discuss their efforts to keep the program historically accurate.
  • An Interview with Author Bill O’Reilly (HD, 5:04) The Fox host discusses his inspiration for writing the book, the TV adaptation, and the day President Obama invited him to the Lincoln Bedroom to view the handwritten Gettysburg Address.
  • Uncovering the Truth: The Making of Killing Lincoln (HD, 22:22) A making-of documentary, covering the program’s production.
  • Lincoln in Virginia (HD, 00:17): A promo for Civil War-themed tourist spots in the state of Virginia.
  • Promotional Features (HD, 10:28): Five short behind-the-scenes featurettes, with the actors’ discussing their characters, director Adrian Moat talking about approaching the material from an Englishman’s perspective, and a National Geographic teaser.
  • Digital Copy of the film.