A Christmas Movie: “The Crossing” (Missed Movies)

If you are looking for an unusual holiday movie, you should check out The Crossing (2000).  The film is an excellent A&E made-for-TV movie starring Jeff Daniels as George Washington. The Crossing portrays the story behind Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on the night after Christmas in 1776 to fight the Battle of Trenton.

While one may only pack so much information in an 89-minute movie, few holiday movies will put you on the edge of your seat like The Crossing. Director Robert Harmon does an excellent job of condensing the story to convey the drama, risk, and importance of George Washington’s decision to cross the Delaware.

Most people are familiar with the crossing because of the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. But in watching The Crossing I was surprised by how much I did not know — or had forgotten.

Perhaps because of the painting, many think of the crossing as being near the end of the American Revolutionary War.  But it occurred closer to the beginning of the war.  The crossing took place less than six months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when the war would continue until 1783. Also, the battle was not against the main British forces but against hired German Hessian forces.

None of that, though, lessens the significance of the battle and George Washington’s decisions.  The Crossing does an excellent job of portraying the risks involved and the importance of the battle.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Howard Fast, and it takes some liberties for dramatic effect.  But the film sets the big picture accurately. The Colonists had suffered repeated defeats at the hands of the British.  And the British were expecting a quick end to the war. But Washington decided to take his weary men in a risky move.  The result of his decision would gain supplies for the winter and provide a much-needed victory to inspire the Colonists and future enlistments.

While the personality of Washington remains somewhat elusive, Jeff Daniels does an excellent job portraying one of the most important people in American history.  He conveys the difficult decisions encountered by the steady leader.

Even though you know how the story ends, the film will still draw you into the tense tale, seeing the men battle against the odds. The Crossing does a good job of portraying the challenges, including the cold weather and Washington’s realization that it is impossible to encounter the Hessians before daybreak.

Conclusion? While The Crossing has little Christmas cheer, it is a great way to remember an important event in American history that occurred on the night of December 25 into the morning of December 26. Watching The Crossing, one cannot help but think how American history may have gone differently — or never existed at all.  What if George Washington made a different decision or if the outcome was different on that Christmas night more than two hundred years ago?

At least for now, you may watch the entire film on YouTube (in several parts, with part 1 below):

Other Reviews Because Why Should You Trust Me? Rotten Tomatoes provides no critics rating for the TV movie, but it gives a disappointing audience score of 53%. I suspect some may have had high expectations for the film and were disappointed because they expected a movie theater film on the life of George Washington. But others appreciate the film for what it is: a short dramatization of the important events over a short time period. By contrast, GJ’s Closet called The Crossing “the greatest American Revolutionary War film ever made and an ideal history lesson.” The film won a Peabody Award in 2000.

Painting photo via public domain.

What is your favorite movie set during Christmas that is not about Christmas? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • What Song Did George Bailey Sing?: A Quiz on Christmas Songs on the Screen
  • The Sounding Joy: A Refreshing Timeless Christmas Album
  • Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire
  • The Killers Lament Another “Christmas in L.A.”
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special 1978
  • Paul McCartney Joins Springsteen for “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Ten Sentences: Gettysburg Address

    On an autumn day on this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that only took a few minutes and was a mere ten sentences long.  The most famous photo of the speech shows Lincoln stepping down after finishing, because the photographer had assumed the speech would last longer than it did.

    The Gettysburg ceremony took place to dedicate a new national cemetery several months after the July 1-3 battle that left around 50,000 soldiers injured or dead.  Organizers invited Lincoln to deliver a few remarks after the main oration by Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State, Governor, and Senator.  Everett spoke for two hours, while Lincoln took only a few minutes to deliver his ten sentences.  Newspaper reviews for the President’s speech at the time were mixed, often along partisan lines, but soon people recognized how his ten sentences defined the war and the nation.

    Gary Wills in his book Lincoln at Gettysburg, as well as others, note historical parallels between the language of the speech and Greek sources, the Bible, etc.  One of my favorite connections was noted today by James Hume, who was a speechwriter for Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.  He wrote that when Lincoln was ten, a farmer loaned Lincoln a book, Mason Weems’ Life of George Washington.  After the book was significantly ruined by rain that had leaked into the cabin, Lincoln had to work off the book by pulling tree stumps, and then the waterlogged book became one of the boy’s few possessions.  A page that was still legible showed a picture of Washington at a Valley Forge memorial with the inscription, “That these dead shall not have died in vain.”  The 54-year-old Lincoln incorporated those words into his famous speech.

    It took me twelve sentences to tell the above background story.  Lincoln defined a nation in ten.

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    Often, Lincoln actors have deep booming voices — with one exception being Henry Fonda’s wonderful portrayal in the movie Young Mr. Lincoln.  But Lincoln actually had a high-pitched voice, so the recording below done by Jeff Daniels — where he also realistically seems to be sort of yelling as Lincoln would have had to do at the event without artificial amplification — is probably more accurate than most simulations.

    For those of you who prefer your information in Powerpoint, click here.

    Photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg via public domain. Update: In 2013, a second photo was found that featured Lincoln at Gettysburg. Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • The Civil War and Conan O’Brien
  • The Honored Dead and the Gettysburg Survivors
  • Anniv. of Civil War’s Start: Elvis’s American Trilogy
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural
  • Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln
  • A Lincoln Portrait
  • (Related Posts)