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The producers' self-evident intent with this series was to offer a
nuanced look at a period of US history which has been so glorified as
to occult anything controversial.
Here, the tug of war between Adams and Jefferson and their respective factions is well illustrated, complete with petty recriminations and back-stabbing (how quaint it now seems that the vice-president could have been the general election runner-up!).
Despite my appreciation for this more accurate rendition of history, I was frequently frustrated that the focus on the personal history of John Adams steered the series away of many of the important milestones of the revolutionary period; the Boston tea party is shown only as the tarring and feathering of the commissioner, none of the war of independence battles are more than alluded to, and the war of 1812 is not even mentioned.
The costumes are amazing and even more so the physical aging of the characters.
A few episodes resort to ridiculously crooked camera angles with annoying frequency, but for the most part the camera work is sedate and pleasing.
Watching books on film carries the danger of replacing a rich and
complex experience by an overly simplified, bare-boned one.
My most recent experience was watching on tape the television series on John Adams, based on the the David McCullough biography which I had read a few years ago.
My general impression is that the two principal actors, Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney (as John Adams and his influential wife, Abigail) gave a different rendition of the personalities of the main characters from what I had imagined them to be as I read the book. They became much more one-dimensional, for example.
Their personal communication style, as rendered by the actors, became an irritant to me. Adams way of speaking made him appear as shifty, untrustworthy and visionless : an 18th Century Dick Cheney. Abigail, as a condescending know-it-all.
Now that I have seen the movie, I have find it hard to return to my previous impression of a complex man married to a very strong and intelligent woman.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I choose both J & A in my summary because one without the other would
not have succeeded in the deep and profound lives they lived. First of
all a sober assessment of this film should be put aside until one has
read David McCullough's fantastic historical account of J.A. The reader
is entertained by a master storyteller, who first caught my ear in the
ever great Ken Burns series "The Civil War", where he was used as
narrator and historian. Once you have read this book then the many
facts that you face when watching the film will make all the more
Why is J.A. such a great series? The producers and director took great pains to reproduce the look and feel, the authenticity of the times. (my one and only criticism of this and just about every such series is that costumes, especially of the soldiers all look like they were just freshly pressed and taken from the closet. Soldiers of the day had no such luxury and probably looked pretty shabby, notwithstanding the bright colours. But I quibble....) The overall view is the impression that we are looking at the times as they really were. What I noted in particular was the extreme hazards of a winter time boat crossing of the Atlantic !!!! Good heavens, I can think of few things at that time or our own that were more perilous and as we watch poor J.A. wretchedly sick as the boat crashes upon the waves....we tremble at their fate. Never mind that they had to fight a pitched battle against a British ship....and could have been sunk themselves.
John Adams was a complex man but a very good and moral one. Bull headed when he dug in his heels, opinionated, erudite, hard working, a devoted and loving father and husband. All of his life's energies he channelled through the filter that was his beloved wife, Abigail. John trusted no other human as much as his Abigail. They say that they had one of the great love and literary affairs of the century. If the volume of correspondence and the expressions therein are adequate testimony, then we witness a true love. John was both a farmer, scholar and lawyer, something not seen much in our time. He was also guided by a simple but iron willed principle that all men must be governed by laws and that society that abandons them opens itself up to the rule of the mob. Early in his life he is tested as he is given the thankless task of defending British soldiers who stood accused of killing several colonists. His uneasy but fierce and successful defence of the soldiers gives us an idea of the depth of this man. He was to be tested over and over again as he was torn away from wife and children to tend to national duties as they rapidly evolved. There was not a single time that he did not gain his wife's blessings to his paths, no matter the pain it caused her.
The series quite accurately tells their story. From the incredibly difficult days where he was away in Philadelphia helping hammer out the declaration of independence while sickness and the British forces gave his wife and children many sleepless nights to the even more wrenching times when John was alone in Europe trying with great vexation to motivate French and Dutch bankers and royalty to support the erupting American revolution. The series shows the physical depredations he lived through and the mentally trying decision to send his young son John Quincy off to St. Petersburg as a diplomatic assistant.
The ensemble cast is superb from top to bottom. Much detail is given to making the actors appear as close to the historical characters. While they had no photography back then they certainly had plenty of portrait painters and we know pretty much what they looked like. David Morse's depiction of Washington was almost inch for inch what he would have looked like, the actor being as tall as Washington was. As well it is known that Washington's teeth had been removed or came out and that he wore ivory dentures. Look at all the stuffing in Morse's mouth and the attempt to reproduce the generals face is all there.
While there is so much tragedy in the Adams family, with the loss of a daughter to cancer and a son to alcoholism, the most shattering moment comes when John watches his wife slip away. Such very great people you cannot find much in the historical record. I still must say that I find Thomas Jefferson one of the most vile of the founding fathers. A prosperous, brilliant, urbane, conniving, calculating and charming man who simply could not see his pleasures and wealth compromised by ever giving up his slaves, of which it now appears that he fathered a number of children; I find him personally disgusting. Give me John Adams and the manner in which he was a father, a husband, a Vice and President of the United States. When all is said and done, this is one of those very great series that should be mandatory in every American school system.
The chemistry between Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti is composed of a wealth of excellent dialogue, quotes from their huge output of letters to each other and by the unbreakable bonds of love. Clearly these actors felt a sympathy for these founders and were able to channel their spirit with such clarity. Tom Wilkinson's depiction of Dr. Benjamin Franklin is wonderful to behold. Watch for the hilarious chess game played in the bathtub. As I am watching the series all over again it motivates me to re-read McCullough's book. Both are treasures you should own and learn from.
The critics all beg to differ with each other on this one. Me, I
believe the truth is in the middle (as usual). I tend to agree with
each critic on a single issue and then disagree on the rest...
One thing is certain: 'John Adams' is a well made, ambitious and detailed afresco depicting 50 years of American (and not only) history at the turn between the 18th and 19th centuries. The filmmakers go to great lengths trying to faithfully reconstruct this period, and mostly succeed in doing so wonderfully. I find this to be by far the biggest accomplishment of this mini series; You really feel the atmosphere of the times, the poor hygiene levels, the sicknesses, the dirt, the poverty. You can see how feeble human life itself was, how death was close at hand at all times. Medicine was almost non-existent, some scenes concerning medical interventions are so real they are both visually and intellectually so shocking I was moved by them. In other, you also have a wonderful portrayal of the decadence of 'old Europe' in starch comparison to for the times (very) modern American pragmatism portrayed through Adams himself.
The series is populated with many historical characters, most of which spring to life not only thanks to good acting, but also because of a good screenplay and excellent dialog. I enjoyed the fact that the language used was that of the times, and not a modern version of the same. There is however, one major problem, one that prevents this series from being great, and that is the casting of John Adams. Notwithstanding his trying hard, Paul Giamatti "just doesn't feel right" as John Adams. This is a major problem for this otherwise almost impeccable production, which I highly recommend watching in any case.
I just finished watching this series on DVD. Although it's boring at times if you're not into history at least a little bit, overall it was a very excellent production and true to history. I don't think that TV actors, even if it is an HBO film with a big production budget, that it is not eligible for Oscar nods. Too bad, because Giamatti's portrayal of Adams was simply the most powerful performance I recall seeing in years. Simply unforgettable. Laura Linney, and many of the actors did Oscar-worthy jobs as well. Oh, and the actor who plays Washington (what's his name?) was a dead on ringer, like the brought the first prez back to life just to play himself. Also, I know it's not recognized as a big effects movie (thank god) but it's one of the best use of CGI enhancement I've seen.
This mini-series is so blatantly inaccurate that to say that it was based on the book by David McCullough is akin to calling McCullough an inept historian -- which he certainly was not. The book was extraordinary. But the film makers took huge and gross liberties with history much of the "history" portrayed in the film is just wrong. And, as well, they interjected a massive amount of political correctness, apparently to make the film more pleasing to a wider audience -- particularly targeting the Gen Y and non-white viewers. Indeed, it seems that the producers and director wanted to portray white men as foolish and dishonest half-wits that could not possibly get anything worthwhile done without the help of their brilliant and angelically honest slaves. And, yes, thanks to those very strong and supremely intelligent women who also helped the weak, timid, and immoral white men get through the day. I'm not at all saying that black people and women did not play any significant role in our history they certainly did. But this film clearly demeans and disparages white males in a profoundly erroneous and shameful manner. If we made a film portraying black males in this way today, there would be rioting in the streets -- and rightfully so. I don't understand why David McCullough allowed them to butcher his work. And I don't see how any thinking person could watch this tripe of a film without being insulted.
Thank you to all concerned for bringing this absolutely first rate and
intimate view of the founding fathers particularly of John Adams and
George Washington. David Morse is incredible as George Washington. The
physical resemblance is remarkable but the essence of character,
humanity, humility and quiet strength of his leadership as portrayed is
a wonderful reminder of our first Presidents greatness. The strengths
and failings of John Adams as he goes about the business of These
United States and his family reminds us that the founders were real
people subject to some of the same issues we all confront. Paul
Giamanti and Laura Linney are magnificent. I could go on for pages of
how informative the entire works are to date. I look forward to the
remainder episodes with great anticipation.
Thank you Art Pratt Aliquippa, Pa
The pure brilliance of every aspect of this mini-series has almost left me speechless. If you watch this mini-series without being moved to tears, are not left with an overwhelming sense of patriotism, or do not have a profound new respect for the founding fathers and mothers of this country, then you were not really watching at all. After viewing this mini-series, I have now witnessed the greatest scene in a MOVIE ever; that being the scene between John Adams and King George III when they met for the first time after the war. Absolutely astonishing. Kudos to Tom Hollander for a brilliant portrayal of George III; I have never seen emotion like that on screen before. Others have tried, but Hollander nailed it. This mini-series needs to be REQUIRED viewing for all American school children. Fantastic.
This is truly a work of genius and HBO's finest presentation yet! The cooperation between the British actors, the director and his staff, and the Americans was an example of the finest collaboration possible. The actors gave credence to their roles superbly and fleshed out the reality of the enormous struggle for independence. As David McCullough said, this was the confluence of the right men at the right time coming together united with one purpose. Nothing prior to this has been so eloquently done and by such an outstanding cast, both American and English--portraying the best of American determination, fortitude, purpose and dedication! BRAVO TO ALL INVOLVED! Paul Giamotti, Laura Linney, David Morse, Tom Wilkinson, and the gentleman playing Jefferson (as well as the entire cast) are to be commended for producing their finest work. Judi Rogers
I am so finicky when it comes to series , with the exception of Prison Break, I have been unable to get into watching anything. In other words, nothing suits my taste. I never heard of this series before..but through my Amazon Prime - I found what I was looking for. First I LOVE Giamattis acting - he always brings such a sense of depth of emotion and flare with his performances. And, with the script of John Adams, the scenery of Boston and the lead actor - you can not miss on this one. As as he rides into the first scene on a snowy New England into Boston - to deal with those darn red coats you know - this is going to be an excellent series. Awesome.. I am happy!
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