I have always been a fan of the Revolutionary era of our nation's history. The discussions on natural rights and individual liberty, the cornerstones of our founding, have always interested me. So when I heard that HBO was about to run "John Adams," a miniseries based on David McCullough's book of the same name, I was excited, despite the fact that I have never been a fan of Adams.
Adams is played by Paul Giamatti ("Sideways"). Giamatti portrayed Adams very well; however, you cannot help but compare the performance of Giamatti performance to that of William Daniels, who played Adams in the Broadway musical and motion picture, "1776." Giamatti plays a far more pragmatic and plain, but still opinionated and haughty, John Adams.
Enough cannot be said about Stephen Dillane. He absolutely mastered the character of Thomas Jefferson. He perfectly portrayed Jefferson's mannerisms and principles. I would love to see a separate series for Jefferson, with Dillane again taking the role.
The seven-part miniseries covers every major event leading up to the separation of the colonies from England. The story begins on March 5, 1770, the day of the Boston Massacre, and Adams' defense of the British soldiers involved. Adams is portrayed as a principled man, sympathetic to the cause of his cousin, Sam Adams (Danny Hutson), but devoted to the law.
We are introduced to the members of the Second Continental Congress and see the debate on independence between the members.
My favorite scene of the miniseries shows Adams, Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson) and Thomas Jefferson reviewing a draft of the Declaration of Independence. Adams reads the slavery clause of the document that blames King George III for the slave trade and notes that it is not just a declaration of American independence, but lays out the natural rights of all men. This section was left out of the final draft over objections from delegates from the South.
Also during this scene, Franklin convinces Jefferson to change the phrase, "we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable that all men are created equal" to "self-evident." Franklin's reasoning was that the original wording "smacks of the pulpit."
The story also shows the strain on Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) and her children that was caused by Admas activities, some shown in parts of the second episode, as she is left to run the farm while her husband goes overseas to serve with Benjamin Franklin as an American Minister to France.
Adams relationship with his son, Charles, is somewhat troubled almost from the start of the series. Adams constantly chastises Charles, who plays with his toys in the middle of the floor, doing things that young children do. Adams eventually disowns Charles, who dies from alcoholism near the end of Adams' presidency.
As vice president, Adams is humbled in the presence of George Washington (David Morse) and not often called upon for advice. We only get a glimpse of the historically contentious relationship between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell).
Throughout the miniseries we see the influence of Abigail Adams on her husband. She moderates him. At times she gets angry with the negative press her husband receives from papers run by Republican loyalists and she encourages President Adams to sign the Sedition Act, one of the most criticized actions of his presidency.
The DVD of "John Adams" is due to come out on June 10. I have already reserved a copy. If you have a love of American history, you must see this miniseries.
"John Adams" is rated TV-14 for adult language and historical violence.