Henry Fonda did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar winning turn as Abraham Lincoln was often noted for his use of a higher pitched, said to be more accurate, voice in his portrayal of Abe Lincoln. That was not the first higher pitch voiced Lincoln to be found, as that's what one will hear in Henry Fonda's performance as Lincoln. Now to be fair it really is basically Fonda's normal voice, which happens to be a great fit, though I don't think the similarities to Day-Lewis's work stop there by any means though. Fonda is made in the film to look more like Lincoln, perhaps slightly overdone in terms of the nose. However Fonda does not just leave the makeup to do the work as he attempts to imitate the man. It's pretty fascinating since unlike imitating someone from modern times Fonda only had paintings and photographs to go off of. Fonda though captures the unique manner of Lincoln found in those sources from his very proper posture, to even the way he sits upon a railing. It never feels like artifice and Fonda manages to make it feel like a natural aspect of the character.
Now this being a biography film of the period means it's not going to be all that hard hitting so to speak. We are given a fairly simple portrait of Abe Lincoln as well an honest guy of course, and his actual biographical portion is pretty short. We only given a glimpse into his relationship with Mary Todd, and his tragic one with Ann Rutledge is shown to be especially short here. To Fonda's credit though he is thoroughly charming in the moments we are given for those possible romances, and manages to make Ann's loss rather moving despite just how swiftly it is handled. The scenes depicting Lincoln out of the public eye are indeed very few though Fonda still succeeds in making a believable depiction of an honest man. Fonda never feels as though he is forcing these qualities and just exudes them as he should. He earns Lincoln's stature, and no not just his height, and makes for a convincing honest Abe. The highlight of his performance though comes in the highlight of the film where he must go about defending two men accused of murder.
In the murder trial, as well as when Lincoln stops a lynch mob the night before, is where the comparisons to Day-Lewis's later work can be freely made. That is again his higher pitched voice is not all there is in terms of his similarities. Fonda goes about carrying himself not as that imposing sort of leader type that say was the way Walter Huston portrayed him in Abraham Lincoln. Fonda gives a nicely relaxed performance, that probably makes his mannerisms also come off as more authentic, as he portrays Lincoln not as man who forces his views or intelligence upon others. Instead Fonda so well conveys the easygoing nature of the man who convinces others to follow his lead almost through a friendly talk, not unlike Day-Lewis's later approach. The attempted lynching scene is absolutely brilliantly played by Fonda as he brings upon a certain self deprecating humor into Lincoln's argument that makes him persuasive in such an unassuming yet wholly effective fashion. Fonda is able to carry a fierce determination in his eyes, but always channels that determination in an understated fashion. The same goes for the trial itself as Fonda rarely even raises his voice so eloquently realizing a true statesman who convinces through a certain goodwill rather than outrage. Fonda suggests a man who allows the person he's trying to persuade choose for himself, he just simply helps the man find the right path. Fonda has that needed magnetism here as one can see the great president he will become even though we never get close to that part of the story here. I would not have minded if the film continued to allow Fonda to depict more of Lincoln's life because his approach here is noteworthy, and I can't help but wonder if he might have influenced Day-Lewis take on the man. It's very strong work from Fonda even within the limitations of the role and the film's story line.