If you have been reading me for even a little while, you probably remember the fact that I am something of a history geek. You probably also remember that one of my favorite periods of history is that of the American colonial era in general, and of the American Revolution in particular. Knowing that, it won't surprise you at all to hear about how I excited I was about the production of David McCullough's biography of John Adams as an HBO miniseries, which debuted on Sunday evening.
John Adams is one of the founders of our republic that although not neglected by history, is not one of the founders that we remember as a thorough-going firebrand, like John Hancock, and Sam Adams (John's cousin). Despite the way Adams has been served by history, he remains one of the most important figures of the day, and this series goes a long way to tell the viewer why.
The first two episodes detailed the events and the aftermath of the Boston "massacre" as well as the Battles of Lexington/Concord, as well as Bunker (Breed's) Hill, the appointment of General Washington to command the Continental Army, all the way through the debates and intrigue that led to the eventual adaptation of our Declaration of Independence.
I am pleased to report you all that HBO has done nothing short of magnificent, brilliant work here. Not only because the cinematography was brilliant. Not only because the costuming was so well done, and not only because the acting was superb, but because the producers and directors were able begin to tell us an important story in great detail, without becoming lost in the minutiae.
There will be nit-pickers who will review these episodes and complain about certain inaccuracies, but those complaints leave me cold. The important thing is that the story gets told. Does it matter that Major General Knox didn't actually bring the captured artillery from Fort Ticonderoga through Braintree, Mass., past Adams house on the way to Boston? No, not really, this was just a plot device to not only show the importance of that artillery, and to also, briefly, introduce us to Knox, who was Washington's chief artillerist throughout the war. The producers also used a similar plot device to introduce us to Dr. Joseph Warren, the Patriot Commander who was killed leading the Massachusetts militia against the British at Bunker Hill.
Of the many things I can describe that was done with a great deal of accuracy, was the depiction of the depth of the relationship between John Adams and his wife, Abigail (exquisitely played by Laura Linney). Abigail Adams, according the the histories that I have read, was quite a formidable woman who was not only a devoted wife and mother, but was also well educated, and was her husband's closest political adviser.
Abigail & John Adams were America's first political power couple.
Another great, historically accurate portrayal depiction was the nomination of George Washington to command the Continental Army. Washington, played with great restraint, by David Morse,was shown as not only being one of the most experienced American military men of the day, but also as a grand gesture of conciliation to the southern colonies, who were suspicious of the motives of the New England delegations to the Continental Congress.
There are so many more things to say about this series but I don't want to risk boring you... I will close by saying that this incredibly important presentation of this period in history is being done so well that I can barely stand it. The graphics, sets, and meticulous details to the customs and the accents of the period are superb, but the biggest accolades must go to the acting abilities of Paul Giamatti, who played Adams to the hilt. He was able to show Adams as a formidable attorney, as a contemplative family man, and as a passionate spokesman for Independence.
If the next five episodes are anything like the first, I may need a cigarette or immediately doze off when I am done.