Picks and Pans Review: The Unfinished Civil War

updated 02/19/2001 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/2001 01:00AM

History Channel (Mon., Feb. 19, 9 p.m. ET)

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Almost 136 years after it officially ended, the Civil War is still subject to debate—as demonstrated by the recent criticism of two Bush cabinet appointees for speaking favorably of the Confederacy. So the content of these worthwhile documentaries couldn't be timelier. The problem is the scheduling, which pits The Unfinished Civil War against Part 1 of Abraham and Mary Lincoln.

The ambitious Lincoln study, a six-hour American Experience entry, packs a lot of Civil War information into a dual biography of the 16th President and his erratic First Lady. By making us feel the weight of Abraham Lincoln's personal sorrows (two sons dead, wife on the edge of a breakdown), producer-director David Grubin gives us new appreciation for the President's strength in coping with his own depression while carrying responsibility for the nation's survival. Mary, though a chronic spendthrift, gets the credit she deserves for giving the ambitious backwoodsman a bit of polish.

The History Channel's two-hour special looks at Civil War reenactors—with their almost spooky fidelity to the past—in the light of today's controversy over displaying the Confederate flag in some southern states. It's an effective film, but the ending strains to find a sign of Blue-Gray détente.

Bottom Line: Glory, glory

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