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I have been an amateur scholar of John and Abigail Adams for years
which started many years ago with Irving Stone's historical novel based
on their letters, "Those Who Love". The individual who wrote that
Abigail Adams would not have espoused rights for women as her husband
participated in the writing the founding documents of the United States
(and he did participate a little more than the mini-series portrays) is
mistaken - she frequently chided him on his roundly accepted gender
bias of the time, as women and children were considered chattel
property of men - and specifically spoke with him through her letters
about this particular subject.
Mr. McCollough's book was a masterpiece on the life and political career of John and Abigail Adams, and this mini series is disappointing in that it kaleidoscopes a good bit of the more dramatic and interesting history of the period and spends far too much time on uninteresting details, especially that of Mr. Adams' ambassadorships to France, England and the Netherlands which are not particular good subject matter for film. The characterizations by the actors are superb, and I too, sense awards in the future for Mr. Giamatti and Ms. Linney, but if the costume and makeup artists don't win a few of them it will be a travesty. Makeup is not only minimal (except for that done for the French aristocracy), but the characters have the flaws they would have had at that time in history - stained and aging teeth (or no teeth as in the case of Mr. Washington), sun and age spots, acne scars, baldness and the costuming is superb - wigs look somewhat frazzled even when intricately curled (with what would have been curling irons set directly into a fire or hot oven) farm clothes look aged and worn and appear to be of homemade, handwoven linen, Abigail's dresses were fairly plain and unadorned for the most part (at least at the farm and in the early revolutionary period) which would most likely be the clothing chosen by a minister's daughter of relatively little means, and Mr. Adams was not a wealthy man for much of his life, though he did better than most. Set design is equally impressive, showing the relative poverty of the colonists compared to that of the grand estates in England and France. Finer furnishings show up in the colonial public buildings and offices, but details of the Adams'daily life both in their in-town dwellings and at the farm at Braintree, down to the smoke tinged walls from fireplaces and candle wall sconces is impressive. Most set designers miss these fine details, especially in movies where a lot of computer generated backgrounds and fillers are utilized.
The fourth episode is better than the second and third, and hopefully this production will improve as the series reaches its conclusion.
As I read the book, I thought the miniseries was wonderful. I waited
nine months to see this when I learned that while visiting the Adams
Birthplace last year in Quincy, the miniseries was in production.
However, the miniseries was very condensed from the book. I figure I would see more action on the high seas, including Abigail's travel on the ship, and a lot of letter writing between Adams and Abigail.
I am glad that closed-captioning was included, because I would have had a very hard time trying to hear and understand what the players in the miniseries were saying.
As I don't have any series about the early history of America, this tops them all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The series started off very promising with having the war for
independence as a interesting backdrop to the main focus on John Adams
himself. Having him defend the British soldiers really showed what an
idealistic man he was, one with the integrity to one day lead the
nation. My main criticism of the series is that it grinds to a halt
about halfway through. The war for independence ends and we are left
with episodes that are about pretty much nothing.
John Adams himself is portrayed as an unlikeable person, I very much doubt the accuracy of this portrayal. He is pompous, idealistic, ambitious, whiny and has a very short fuse. He seems to lack common sense and humility. It pains me but I think Paul Giamatti is not actor enough to hold up the entire TV series, when the episodes have a sense of direction and urgency as the episodes in the first half do, it's OK. But in the later episodes watching him as a grumpy old man sitting around preaching his idealistic messages, you would have needed someone like Marlon Brando to pull it off.
Sarah Polley was a welcome addition late in the series but she seems too old for the character she plays. John Adams's daughter is supposed to be in her 20's at that point but Sarah Polley looks and acts more like she is in her 30's (she is 30 years old). An interesting side note is that the quality of the episodes was reflected when Swedish Television scheduled the airing of the series. The first episodes were aired more or less at prime time with lots of plugs, when suddenly after an unexplained two week hiatus the series continued at a disclosed, considerably later air time. I certainly do not blame them.
This series is consistent with its title ,it tells the story Of John Adams.Unfortunately,i hoped to see some of the war going on,but there was none in this.Every battle is just mentioned by someone telling Adams what happened or by some wounded retreating soldiers.There is no war in this.All there is,is a bunch of middle-aged people arguing over whether they should fight a war.Thats in the first episodes.I really had enough and didn't watch the rest.Giamati is a decent actor but lacks any charisma whatsoever,after a while you just get bored watching him. John Adams was important to the revolution but more important were the people who fought and died in this war,but this series doesn't seem to think important to concern itself with the actual fighting.Very disappointing,for what it is,it is well made but i think a movie about the revolution should have some actual revolution in it.
While there's lots of good things in JOHN ADAMS there's too much fake
history to score this higher than a 6. Sorry, but Benjamin Franklin may
have been a devilish rogue in his later years but this series portrays
him as a low-life sleaze-ball. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson is portrayed
with no character at all (good or bad) just a pretty face. George
Washington gets no better treatment.
David McCollough's book was not only real history but much more entertaining. Truth usually is more interesting than spin. Given the task of filming John Adams great story, HBO has simply tossed interesting history in the trash and invented their own (badly). Some of the best tales in the book are skipped over, such as Abigail Adams transatlantic crossing and what sea travel was really like, how easy it was to die in voyage.
I suppose it's better that the coke sniffers at HBO did this series than some of their other recent trash, but really, with Sopranos and Deadwood both gone, who needs HBO? And who needs false history? Don't blame the public. The John Adams book, as well as the recent Ben Franklin biography, the Alexander Hamilton biography and the Theodore Roosevelt biography --- all were phenomenal best sellers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Only Parts One and Two have been shown so far. Part One establishes
John Adams' personal and professional life in Boston, his strong sense
of justice, and his relationship with the angry separatists of The Sons
of Liberty. Part Two takes him to the Continental Congress is
Philadelphia and his role in the preparation of the Declaration of
Independence. Ancillary history lessons involve such things as
artifacts, trades (the making of rope), the general eidos (a dockside
littered with oyster shells), and early techniques of vaccination (or,
more accurately, inoculation, since the live virus was used, straight
out of someone else's smallpox pustule -- ugh).
Paul Giammatti has a face and figure that are about as unprepossessing as they come. I suppose he was deliberately chosen to demonstrate that powerful political figures like John Adams don't necessarily look like Charlton Heston. If that was the intent, it was successful. Giammatti has a pudding face that seems to belong more to a frustrated clerk than a power broker and president. Laura Linney is quite good in the role of his wife, Abigail. While Adams paces around, moaning about things, she sits quietly and listens to him and sometimes, suppressing a bitter smile, her face lowered but her eyes alert, she offers reassurance or advice. Some of her jibes sound a little anachronistic. I mean, complaining about women's rights -- not impossible, that is to say, just improbable. In part 2, the acting honors should go to Stephen Dillane who plays Thomas Jefferson. Not that he's a perfect replicant. He's so dour he simply can't be the same guy who introduced ice cream to Monticello. The actor seems too short for Jefferson and resembles him not in the least, but, man, he brings out the character in the guy. Historically accurate or not, it's a fine performance.
I'd like to give the production some bonus points for the extent to which they stuck to some rather demanding standards of period detail. And for choosing as their subject a guy who was heavily involved with the nation for a couple of decades without necessarily being a Byronic figure. (No duels for John Adams.) And no particular signs of charisma either. And an extra bonus point for bringing up one of those wars that we'd all like to forget about, since the UK is now America's closest ally -- damned near our ONLY ally as this is being written. Accordingly, though, the screenplay is even handed. Yes, the Boston "massacre" took place (seven dead). But, as Adams proves in court, it was hardly all the fault of the British musketeers who were being bombarded with sharp debris and whirling clubs and taunted to fire. The incident has come down through American myth as an unprovoked slaughter and it's nice to have the record sharpened a little by means of a contemporary look at it.
Maybe I'll let it go with the observation that the strongest opposition to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence came from the delegate from Pennsylvania, Dickenson, and for good reason. Boston was founded by Puritans who came to believe that they had a lock on morals and weren't bothered if they were compelled to force their vision on the rest of the country. Born leaders. That's why Massachussetts has been called "the mother of presidents." But Philadelphia was founded by Quakers, among whose chief values were humility, a belief in equality, and a distaste for war. Pennsylvania has always had a habit of hiding its light under a bushel basket. The commonwealth has given us only one president, the ever-popular James Buchanan, a bachelor whose most enduring legacy is associated with his beautiful niece, Harriet Lane, who shared the White House with him. (Can I recommend reading E. Digby Balzell's "Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia"? Is that permitted?)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have to be honest and admit that once I realized this series was
going to be filmed in its entirety with the use of shaky cameras,
contrived picture framing, and crooked horizon lines, any ability for
me to be objective about rating this series on other merits became a
somewhat futile exercise.
It's bad enough that one has to put up with that obnoxious methodology in movies like the Bourne Supremacy which are set in current times, but that "trendy" style of filming is a jarring hindrance to a viewer's desire to become lost in history from two centuries past. In other words, it's quite a challenge to feel you are in the 1790s when the film style is more like a cheesy 21st century episode of Boston Legal. The self conscious camera gimmicks prevented me from giving the story, the acting, the period details, etc. anything that may have been due.
In fact, it got to the point where instead of taking the film seriously, my family would laugh at every scene filmed at a 45 degree camera angle.
Beyond these camera antics, there is a real problem with the storytelling in this miniseries. It lacks instinct and is simply not compelling. After a somewhat promising starting episode, in which Adams finds himself defending British Soldiers for the Boston Massacre, the series quickly devolves into a progression of scenes that view like events listed on a timeline. And even then, some major events are told in such a deliberately understated way, these events often have no impact. The unimpressed viewer is left to conclude the following for example: "Oh- the Revolution must be over." Or, "I guess George Washington must have died." Ditto for Adams' son and daughter. And: "Did I miss something? Is Adams' presidential term over?" Or: When did his son become elected President?" Etc.
But then, on the other hand, the well-known fact that Adams and Jefferson died on the same day of July 4th is given such a prolonged and heavy handed treatment, it actually detracts from the magic of that strange historical coincidence.
The fact that Adams is depicted as being so surly, bitter and egotistical doesn't help either. One gets the impression after watching this miniseries that Adams' biggest frustration was that history would not give him as much love as Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. It is difficult to relish a prolonged miniseries with such an unlikable, uncharismatic leading character.
I found other roles of founding fathers disappointing as well, from the smarmy, decadent Ben Franklin to the Washington who was as stiff and wooden as the real president's false teeth. I can understand a filmmaker's desire to inject a realistic humanity into these historic characters, but one would think this treatment of the founding fathers almost seemed driven by a disrespectful contempt for all of them.
One element I can say I was pleased with was the opening title music composed by Rob Lane. It perfectly set the tone and mood for an epic, Revolutionary War period film. Too bad the miniseries didn't measure up at all to that inspiring music.
At any rate, we almost gave up on the series at the point where Adams becomes president, which you would think would be a gripping, climatic aspect of the miniseries. By that point the series had become so cumulatively dull and irritating it was becoming unwatchable even for the more tolerant members of the family.
It's a real shame, because such potentially educational and historical subject matter ordinarily would have been a very refreshing change of pace from the proliferation of Law & Order & CSI reruns that are shown around the clock on every other cable station these days.
I was anxiously awaiting the start of this mini series. I was so looking forward to this series as my family is related to Abigail. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the first part. The camera was rarely still. I didn't feel I was walking through the events with the actors if that was the objective. Motion sickness became a distinct possibility. So many close ups! I was very disappointed. Had I wanted to watch old family movies, I'd have dug out the 8mm projector and had the same effect. I can't rate the series because I couldn't watch it. What could this type of camera work possibly add to the film? I tried again with some of the other parts but had lost the continuity by then.
I was really, really excited about the prospect of this series during the viewing of the first several episodes. It only took me about 5 minutes to loose the idea of John Adams repeatedly saying, "W ENNNNNNNNN B C." I really think Giamatti and the rest of the cast has done a wonderful job. Unfortunately, I just can't concentrate on the film due to the 20 degree camera angles and I have not been able to watch it since episode 4 due to this. I keep expecting things to slide off tables in the middle of a scene. I just checked out a few minutes of episode 6 and there was a scene in a theater which looked as if it was filmed in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I can only hope the DVD set has alternative angles to view the film, because I would really like to see the rest of the series. I just think I shouldn't have to take Dramamine to stomach watching it.
Unlike some other reviewers, I never read the McCullough book, am
neither incensed nor titillated by nudity, nor, although I love this
wonderful country, am I extraordinarily interested in John Adams or
many of the other founding fathers as individuals. I watched it for
entertainment (it WAS a TV show), and as entertainment it was just bad.
I felt like I was watching a big-budget, nine-hour soap opera Thanksgiving special. There wasn't a single subtle or even objective minute in the hours and hours this thing dragged on, just one heavy-handed, melodramatic, grossly overacted and manipulative set piece after another. I hated it. If it got a lot better near the end (which is practically impossible), I missed that, and I'm not even sorry.
I love history, but I'd rather let facts speak for themselves and be allowed to have my OWN reactions to them than be force-fed somebody else's highly-charged emotional responses to everything, as this thing did.
Hollywood produces nothing but junk any more, whether it goes to TV or the octoplex. Nothing but mindless, formula-driven, pre-digested garbage for the mindless violence- and laughtrack-dulled masses who would have a stroke if they suddenly had to figure something out for themselves. Thank God, there are still some imaginative, challenging, and creative independent filmmakers out there, even here in America, and the rest of the world is full of them.
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