THE SHOW "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln," on "American Experience"
WHEN | WHERE Feb. 9 at 9 p.m. on WNET/13
REASON TO WATCH Another beautiful production by PBS filmmaker Barak Goodman ("Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.")
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on James L. Swanson's acclaimed 2006 book, "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer," this broadcast eschews those 12 days until the last half-hour or so, while soaking the first hour in context and background.
There is, indeed, much back story to get through. John Wilkes Booth, youngest son and brother in the famed acting family, became a pre-Civil War superstar whose fans ripped his clothes after his plays. He came to rue his fame and career. "What are actors?" he wrote. "They know little, think less and understand next to nothing." His sympathies lay with the South (where he was most popular), but he sat out the war. Shame, then guilt, then a monstrous and twisted idealism led him to Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865.
BOTTOM LINE The many Lincoln experts, fans and trivia hounds among us probably will not find much here to commend. They will be puzzled by omissions - no mention, for example, of Booth's fiancee, Lucy Hale, the daughter of a U.S. senator from New Hampshire - and bored by the oft-told narrative of the escape. No revisionist theories are floated, while the portrait of Booth consigned to him by history remains untouched - a theatrical blowhard cursed by supremely poor judgment. This isn't for them, though, but for the rest of us. "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" is hugely absorbing.