461 of 487 people found the following review helpful
Each night I turned on the HBO feature anxious to see a good dramatic series, and learn about my country's struggle for life through one its most underrated founding fathers, John Adams.
Paul Giamatti's performance in the title role is much in dispute as he, like many other actors, seems to play himself as much as his character. He turns from a loving father to the lawyer and representative who sometimes looks apoplectic rather than just an angry or fiery patriot. Much to his credit, I felt the John Adams of later years on subsequent episodes was extremely well-acted.
Abigail Adams is played by Laura Linney, and her performance is superb and not the least in dispute. From the first moment, she is thoroughly credible as the vivacious lover, friend, confidante, advisor, and wife of John Adams. Her acting here should garner her an Emmy. The actors protraying Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson turned in stellar performances.
Many complain that this did not follow the book of the same title, and was not true to history exactly. To the first query the answer is what does? To the second, it is a well-written and well-acted drama that deserves our attention.
The series begins with the Boston Massacre and John Adams representing the British soldiers. With his successful defense, he is noticed by the Crown, as well as the colonials who are striving for independence. Both want his services. Adams chooses independence over the king and we see him as representative, foreign minister, beggar and borrower, ambassador, vice president, and president. His one anchor through these assignments and occupations in the struggle of a new nation is his love and respect for his wife, Abigail whom he always refers to as "my friend." The letters between the two is one constant that sustains their love through loneliness of separation, as Mr. Adams is more often away than home.
Particularly touching is the drab existence they share in an uncompleted White House, the grief John Adams suffers from the loss of his Abigail, his renewed friendship with Thomas Jefferson, and his dying belief that his friend survives him, even though Jefferson died three hours earlier. In one of the ironies of our history, both men died exactly fifty years to the day, after July 4, 1776.
This story ends with both Abigail and John Adams quoting letters of their love for each other and a young nation, as they ascend a hill together and look out over their country. They hope that they will be able to see future generations of Americans, from heaven, and wonder if they will deserve the sacrifice and freedom they have given them.
So do I.
620 of 673 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2008
I read David McCullough's GREAT book in anticipation of this miniseries. McCullough painted a picture of a man and a time that I found fascinating; a picture of a hardworking, sensitive (maybe mildly obsessive-compulsive in terms of his emotional high and lows) genius. I found the first few episodes excellent, albeit different from the book. It is the last few episodes that have really affected my view on this series.
The series insists on focusing on Adams' lows. It seems the writers took all the depressing elements of McCullough's book, which were few, and magnified those to center stage. For instance, John Adams' alcoholic son Charles has a major part in the series, but played a relatively minor role in the book. The mudslinging between Jefferson and Adams in Adams' second election for president was jettisoned for the Charles Adams storyline. Also, Adams, presented by McCullough, was a good natured man with a self-deprecating sense of humor. In the series he seems to live in misery.
They also took scenes that were generally upbeat and made them darker. When Adams meets King George III (in my opinion the climax of the story - or at least the first half of the story) in the book, the King is very polite and friendly (much like his portrayal in The Madness of King George III). He smiled a lot and made Adams more comfortable, if not less in awe. In the series the King is just plain weird. I can only guess the filmmakers were hinting at King George's future illness/madness. It's almost as if this series is based on another book about John Adams - a darker book. This series really missed the tone of McCullough's great book.
Still -- divorcing myself from the book -- I find this series is well-made and held my attention. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are very good. My advice would be to watch the series first, then read the book for a much more uplifting story.
195 of 212 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2008
Like many others, I am seeing the series as they come out on HBO, and have yet to read the book (which I intend to at some point). The series features great acting, poignant scenes, and memorable oratory. But what really got me was how it transported you to that time, when life was a series of great heroics, but was also harsh, gritty, and so unforgiving. The series kept sending me to try and research different historial events that I remembered fleetingly reading about, in one line or a few paragraphs during unfortunately uninspiring history classes of many years ago. The concept of being "tarred and feathered" took a whole new dimension for me, as the brutality of that era touched everyone, rightly or wrongly. I am sure I would have more to say once I have finished seeing the series, but I cannot stop thinking about the different scenes. I recommend it to everyone very highly, and can't wait for the DVD to come out.
83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2008
John Adams: deeply principaled, no-nonsence, ornery, lawful good, brilliant, fallible, passionate founder of our country. This is the story of the unbridled defiance, the shrewd intellect, and the angry pounding fist that tore the American colonies from British rule and gave birth to one of the greatest experiments in the history of the world - the United States of America. Stunning and haunting, this is John Adams like you've never seen him. Myth and poetry have been stripped away to reveal the far-more-fascinating, truly-human story of one of the greatest men who has ever lived.
Giamatti is simply brilliant as Adams. If he doesn't win the Emmy for this, I may declare my own independance from the "dark tyranny" of the ATAS. Linney is equally wonderful in her portrayal as the groundingly sapient Abigail. Their love story is one of the greatest in American history, and it's been marvelously recaptured here.
If it's even possible to have "spoilers" for a factual historical drama, then the following might qualify, but if you want to see what each eposide covers, here's my stab at it:
Episode 1: Join or Die.
Begins with the Boston Massacre, and covers the period leading up to Adams departure for Philidelphia to represent Massachusettes in the First Continental Congress.
Episode 2: Independance.
Covers the First Continental Congress, the beginning of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord, the nomination of GW (by Adams) to serve as general of the new Continental Army, the Second Continental Congress, and Adams collaboration with Jefferson and Franklin to bring forth the Declaration of Independance.
Episode 3: Don't Tread on Me.
Covers the journey of Adams and Franklin to France to secure support against the British, Adam's tone-deaf approach to French diplomacy, his painful separation from Abigail, his dispatch to Holland (where his approach is somewhat better receive), and a terrible illness that befalls him.
Episode 4: Reunion.
Covers the defeat of the British forces, Adam's return to Paris and reunion with Abigail, his appointment to represent the new nation to the English crown, his frustrating absence from the Constitutional Convention, his return to America, and his election as Vice President.
Episode 5: Unite or Die.
Covers Adam's Vice Presidency under George Washington, the ongoing British and French conflict, his strained relationship with Jefferson over their very different ideas about how the new nation should be governed, and his narrow victory over Jefferson to become the second President.
Episode 6: Unnecessary War.
Covers Adam's uneasy presidency, including the retention of Washington's cabinet, largely controlled by Hamilton (mistake #1), the imfamous Alien and Sedition Acts (mistake #2), his arrival at the White House in the new capital of Washington (both still under construction), his estragement from his son Charles, the XYZ affair, his successful prevention of war with France, his loss of the Presidency to Jefferson, and his somber return to Massachusettes.
Episode 7: Peacefield.
Covers Adam's post-presidency, including the death of daugher Nabby, followed by Abigail, his reconciliation with Jefferson, the election of John Quincy as President, his long and introspective reflections on his life and legacy, and his death on the same day as Jefferson - the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration which they masterminded together.
I hope you enjoy this rare masterpiece as much as I did. I watched every episode as they aired, and plan to watch them all again as soon as the DVD is available. This is television at its finest, and I give it my highest recommendation.
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2008
Although the miniseries title and episodes focus on the life of John Adams, the strength of the film lies in the exceptional ensemble cast. It was impressive to see such giants as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, as well as the lesser known individuals, truly inhabited by the actors.
The challenge of the series was to breathe life into those stories and lives we know so well. The filmmakers worked closely to David McCullough's outstanding book for the details, along with the human side of the story captured in the voluminous correspondence of John and Abigail Adams. The political, military, and personal issues were all thoughtfully brought to life. The design values of the film were also superb. Nothing looked stagy or stilted in the sets and costumes, which provided an unusual authenticity of period style for television drama. With each appearance of George Washington (David Morse), it was hard not to gasp due to the believability of his character.
The drama of America's breaking from England for independence was an improbable story and one dependent on the courage and idealism of the individuals portrayed in this film. The personalities of these great figures make this program an accessible and rewarding experience for the entire family. For the patient viewer, what emerges from the John Adams miniseries is not merely a history lesson, but a drama with great relevance today. Simply put, we need more people in our country right now just like John and Abigail Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Knox, and, above all, the ordinary human beings heroically portrayed in this fine film!
372 of 430 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2008
I have not had the opportunity to view the entire series, as several of the other reviewers have. I am viewing the episodes one by one as they unspool on HBO. Nor have I yet read Mr. McCullough's undoubtedly excellent book. However, I have studied both John and Abigail Adams for a number of years. I have read multiple volumes, viewed many different presentations, and have visited both the Adams home and the Untarian church where both John and John Quincy Adams are entombed with their respective spouses. I have found this series to be an excellent depiction of the lives, contributions and sacrifices of John and Abigail Adams. It is true that a number of details of their stories are not represented, but I understand that such films must concentrate on dramatic high points and haven't enough time to get it all in there. I personally have no problem with the cinematography...yes, it is a bit murky, but so were many details of life at that time. I rather like the score, and feel that both Mr. Giamatti and Ms. Linney gave excellent performances. These characters so vital to our history were underappreciated in both their time and our own, and I hope that this series will help to bring them some of the consideration they so richly deserve. I intend to purchase this DVD set when it is released and add it as another version of the lives of this facinating couple.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Until I viewed the HBO Miniseries, "John Adams", my impression of the American patriot had been based largely on William Daniels' brilliant, if preening rooster, in the musical, "1776". After viewing Paul Giamatti's fabulous, more grounded portrayal, I must admit THIS is by far the best Adams you'll ever find! Proud, yet insecure, lacking the sophistication of Jefferson, stature of Washington, or urbane wittiness of Franklin, Giamatti's Adams is occasionally coarse, frequently headstrong, but makes up, in fervor, what he lacks in tact. Unlike Daniels' 'take', he is certainly no genius (his thinly-veiled envy of Jefferson and Franklin provides some of the story's conflict, and humor), but he is an impassioned activist, a 'doer' without whom America would never have been born. The first third of the series, covering the Revolutionary War, 'reinvents' Adams for modern audiences, and is both fascinating, and quite moving.
Based on David McCullough's celebrated biography, and filmed largely in eastern Europe and Williamsburg, VA, the series wonderfully captures the 'look' of the times, from untamed wilderness, to cities both old and grimy, and young and dynamic. In this tableau, rough-hewn Americans contrast sharply with coiffed Europeans, providing a nice visualization of the difference between the Old and New Worlds, and justification for the existence of a new nation. In the entertaining 'middle' segments of the production, Adams is thrust into European society, a bull in a china shop who embarrasses both Franklin (a terrific Tom Wilkinson, looking eerily like the legendary Founding Father), and later, Jefferson (Stephen Dillane, who lacks Jefferson's height and charisma, but is quite good). Despite the loyal friendship of George Washington (a dead-on, very effective David Morse), Adams proves a disastrous diplomat and Vice President, and is stymied as President by a near-fanatical fear of terrorism (shades of 9/11 and today!)
Perhaps the series' finest moments come when Adams leaves office, and tries to adjust to life as a farmer and forgotten 'hero of the revolution'. Here, Laura Linney's contribution, as Abigail Adams, truly shines; a loving, feisty, politically savvy woman, she now ages gracefully as a supportive wife and heartsick mother (particularly during the illness and death of daughter 'Nabby', portrayed sensitively by Sarah Polley). Linney and Giamatti's scenes together, terrific throughout the series, are especially poignant as their lives draw to a close. Another plus in these chapters is the renewal of the Adams/Jefferson friendship, through correspondence, as two old warhorses face a changing world and mortality, together (both would die on the same day, July 4th, fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence...a touch no author would dare invent, but true!)
"John Adams" is an epic achievement, and the perfect way to celebrate Independence Day, any time you pop it into your DVD player!
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2008
As Patton was to George C. Scott, John Adams is to Paul Giamatti. It is not necessary to gauge this series according to its historical accuracy or whether events addressed are the most central (or relevant) to Adams' lifetime. Giamatti owns this character in a way that few actors acheive in their careers. The intensity of this performance, both in its vulnerablility and tenaciousness, paints a unique portrait of a man that is occasionally referenced in history books but not truly humanized in the way Jefferson or Washington has been. True I would like to have seen another 20 or so hours of this series - the briefness of certain stages of the man's life cannot be overstated - but how lucky we are to have seen such a powerful and memorable performance at all. Giamatti has so much to be proud of in this series, as does his wonderful co-star Laura Linney, who, as Abigail Adams, balanced and tempered the thinking of one of our most seminal founding-fathers. Enjoy the richness and humor of a series that will be discussed for years to come.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2008
As an Adams buff, I was highly skeptical this movie would be acceptable to my fellow Adams historians. We would not now have a country without John Adams. In spite of his mistakes (the Aliens and Seditions Act being the worst), he was an honest, ethical person whose contributions have been overshadowed by better politicians like Jefferson and Franklin. He was generations ahead of his time in his social perspectives (his staunch abolitionism and respect for women being two of them). There is no John Adams monument in Washington, DC and no picture of Adams on our everyday currency (despite non-Presidents images appearing) but at least we have McCullough's wondrous book and now this beautiful film. Abigail Adams, no less a person than John Adams, was her husband's best friend and chief adviser. They were equals at a time when there was little power for, as Abigail said, "women and slaves".
The film completely recreates the time. Anyone who has been to Adams' birthplace and Peacefield can attest to how accurate the depictions are of those places. Giamatti's intelligent, intuitive performance has made the role his. Linney, Dillane, Morse and Wilkinson are also excellent. The direction is adult, unflinching and honest. And yes, it is shot a bit dark but the content more than makes up for the camera. I can't recommend it highly enough. The sacrifices of this good and decent human being will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
48 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2008
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by David McCullough, "John Adams" takes an in-depth look at the life of the title character, and his role in the first fifty years of the United States. From his time as a Boston lawyer, to his death on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the life of John Adams and his wife, Abigail, are told with powerful drama and epic sweep.
While the story itself is a bit slow at times (the film could definitely have used some additional music than was there), it is overall very powerful, with dramatic renditions of the events that shaped our nation. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney both give brilliant performances as John and Abigail Adams, piercing the soul of these dynamic characters. Tom Wilkinson is fascinating as Benjamin Franklin, while Stephen Dillane does a fine job as Thomas Jefferson. But the best supporting role is David Morse, who is surprisingly effective as George Washington, portraying him with great humility, along with occasional bouts of anger, in a performance that is deserving of an Emmy. Sarah Polley, Rufus Sewell and Danny Huston also give strong performances.
"John Adams" is a remarkable miniseries that sheds light on one of the most fascinating characters of the American Revolution. Historians and non-historians alike will find much to enjoy in this epic look at one of the men who played a large role in the birth of our country.
Program/DVD Grade: A