Thursday, July 28, 2011

Miniseries Review: John Adams

If you haven't noticed by now, I'm something of a history geek. So when a movie or TV series based on historical events comes out, I like watching it. There's nothing that pleases me more than a historically accurate telling of real events. Recently, I watched the TV miniseries "John Adams," based on the life of America's second president.


The TV miniseries is in seven parts and begins with John Adams as a farmer and lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts. He is called upon to defend the British soldiers accused of starting the Boston Massacre, much to the chagrin of his hot-headed cousin Samuel Adams. Adams is reluctantly dragged into joining the Continental Congress, but his hot-headed nature tends to alienate him. He is then sent away to France to ask the king for aiding the Americans, which causes him to butt heads with Ben Franklin and which causes tension at home as he misses his wife and children. Eventually he is reunited with his wife and with his friend Thomas Jefferson in France and visits Paris and England. Washington is elected the first president, and political struggles immediately begin, especially between Jefferson and Hamilton. Adams is elected the second president and is also beset with political tensions between Britain and France due to the French Revolution. After he fails to win another election, he retires on his family farm, where he suffers grave losses within his own family as he grows older and outlives most of them.

The show's writers did a good job of capturing the highlights of Adam's life between 1774 and his death. It moved at a good pace, and there was never a dull moment, even if Adams was reading a newspaper criticizing some political event or person; part of this was because of the characters, but I'll get to that later. I really enjoyed the look at power politics, such as the struggles between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it was a reminder that American politics were divided from the very beginning. The writers also did good in making certain scenes emotional, particularly in the last episode which has several deaths in it though other notable scenes are: Adams watching hot-headed Patriots tar a tax collector and Adams and his wife being reunited in France after several years apart.

The characters were very memorable, and the actors and actresses were chosen well. Paul Giamatti made a very good John Adams, capturing his sarcasm and his short-temper in a way that makes him flawed but likable. Laura Linney was a good Abigail Adams, and her character matured as she started off as an unsure young woman who did not like her husband being away so often, but she transformed into a strong shoulder for Adams. Tom Wilkinson, David Morse, and Stephen Dillane were also good in their roles as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, capturing what made these historical men unique. These characters kept the plot going, and they had good chemistry with one another, making the miniseries seem even more real.

The costumes, makeup, and scenery was also well-done. Everything looked accurate, and I felt as if I had been transported back to late colonial times. The makeup was especially excellent, especially as you watched the characters grow old, as their hair grows whiter and more wrinkles appear on their face. I was quite amazed at how they managed to make Giamatti look ninety years old.

All in all, the miniseries was excellent. I did not know much about John Adams and what he had done, but this gave me a good look into America's War for Independence and more into what went on behind the scenes, like in the Continental Congress. If you are an American history buff or someone in search of an accurate historical story, this is definitely the miniseries for you. Case in point: we got my sister, who's not very interested in history (and calls us history people geeks frequently), to watch the show, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

I give it five out five stars.