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John Adams (DVD)
Based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal path to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. But he also gains the esteem of the first national government of the United States, i.e., the Continental Congress, which seeks non-firebrands capable of making a reasoned if powerful case for America's break from England's monarchy. The first thing one notices about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here. Some horrendous things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under the command of George Washington. But the process isn't easy: not every one of the 13 colonies-turned-states is ready to incur the wrath of England, and behind-the-scenes negotiations prove as much a part of 18th century congressional sessions as they do today.
Besides this peek into a less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at critical junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of helping to draft the U.S. constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence has been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams' 54-year marriage to Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and anchor, and his difficult, almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades. Giamatti, of course, has to carry much of the drama, and if he doesn't always seem quite believable in the series' first half, he becomes increasingly excellent at the point where an aging Adams becomes bitter over his place in history. Linney is marvelous, as is Dillane, Sarah Polley as daughter Nabby, Danny Huston as cousin Samuel Adams, and above all Tom Wilkinson as a complex but indispensable Ben Franklin. --Tom Keogh
- The entire seven-part miniseries on three discs
- David McCullough: Painting with Words: a rare and personal glimpse at the life and works of author David McCullough
- Facts Are Stubborn Things: An exclusive on-screen historical guide
- The Making of John Adams featurette
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Of course it helps that the Author, David Mccullough was on hand every step of the way from development to the actual filming and that the Director, Tom Hooper and his team of make-up artists, costumers, set designers and even his CGI team aimed to produce as brilliantly authentic production as possible. The care and craft of this production is so well and beautifully done that every award for this program is so very much deserved.
He allows his son to leave to go to another country (when the boy was 14 years old -- what a different time then!), then doesn't see his son again until the fellow is in his 20s. He's also separated from his wife for YEARS. This really takes a considerable amount of sacrifice, courage and conviction.
We cannot appreciate some of the tougher aspects of their lives...John Adams gets sick for MONTHS, and there's no medicine but what his body can do for him. He pays a dear price for doing service to his country.
The series appears very realistic, well done with all the minor details...depicting how the French wore makeup to cover up their infrequent bathing. How the royal court lived - so opulently while the poor live very poorly.
For those who are history buffs, you should like it. FOR THOSE WHO WANT A QUICKIE PEEK BACK, and don't want the details, this series might provide too much information, and move too slowly for you.
Pair this with the 6-part PBS series Liberty! and you have a good foundation for an introduction to American Politics course of high school or undergrad students, as well as the general public. Episodes are just short enough to keep your interest, but run a little long for typical classroom use. The episodes dealing with the early Boston Tea Party context (Ep 1) and the Alien and Sedition Acts under the early republic (Ep 5) were especially good.