By Terry Kelleher
April 13, 1998 12:00 PM

TNT (Sun., April 12, 8 p.m. ET)


Any dramatization of Abraham Lincoln’s murder is sure to have moments of power. In this TV movie based on Jim Bishop’s 1955 book, Lincoln’s son Robert (Wil Wheaton) asks the attending physician if he knew the dying President. “No,” he replies. “But I loved him.” The words are simple, yet fill us with profound regret. Could this great man have united the Civil War-torn nation had John Wilkes Booth not shot him on April 14, 1865?

Unfortunately, the drama too seldom does justice to history. Lance Henriksen (Millennium) takes an uninspired approach to Lincoln, playing it safe, stately and stiff. Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) is competent in portraying Booth the poseur, but less convincing when his character is supposed to shed real tears for the defeated Confederacy or a lost love. Dialogue problems include phraseology that would be more appropriate to the Clinton era (a Cabinet member warns the President of “a public relations disaster”) and an instance of unintentional (we hope) humor: “Does the whole of Washington know something about this play that we don’t?” asks First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Donna Murphy in a strong performance) when she has trouble lining up companions for that fateful outing to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. At least nobody says later, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”