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Today we are used to Presidents in a fully furnished White House with a
large staff and all the trappings necessary to perform what many
consider the most important job in the world. We are used to them
living long after their term in office, with secret service and a large
office at their disposal, and the Mayo Clinic on call for any illness
for them or their families. It is hard to believe that before Herbert
Hoover, only a handful of presidents lived more than 10 years our of
office, and most far shorter than that. A pension for a President is a
relatively current development(U.S. Grant wrote his autobiography to
take care of his family) and any President until Hoover just went back
to what he was doing before to make a living. The President in the 20th
and 21st century has well defined duties and a large cabinet and staff
to do their bidding.
In contrast John Adams as our second president moved into a White House that was in the middle of a swamp, half finished and unfurnished. He had no precedent except George Washington for what his job was, or even what his country was, and a 4 person cabinet of advisors. We had a small undeveloped country, with disputed boundaries, no Army and a Navy consisting of arming merchant ships. If he wanted to go somewhere, he got on his horse. Instead of Camp David, he had to ride a carriage to Massachusetts to his working farm. If he or his family got sick, he had the same access to the primitive medical care as anyone, and upon retirement he was expected to make his own living as a farmer and lawyer. John Adams was blessed with a life that was double the median expectancy at the time (90 instead of 45) and thus got to spend exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence to see what the country had become after the Louisiana Purchase(there were already steam train experiments at his death), to see his son become President, and to see his wife and 2 our of 4 children die with him unable to do anything about it.
This series, which is blessed with the underlying book by David McCullough that was developed into a screenplay, has the benefit of covering the incredibly rich, though provoking, and introspective life of John Adams. Adams essentially wrote the screenplay, with his letters to Abigail and Thomas Jefferson providing a treasure trove of information which was developed into a book and a screenplay. He wrote down EVERYTHING- from the most sublime to the most base thoughts, and anybody who read the book will find themselves thinking of our world, people and events in much the same way as Adams did. Those thoughts are somewhat covered in the movie(his insecurity, stubbornness, etc) but unless they put "thought bubbles" over his head it would be hard to convey in a movie. The screenplay is great(why wouldn't it be) and Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney grow (and die) into the role of a lifetime. Stephen Dillane(Jefferson), and Sarah Polley(Nabby) also grow- and die in an moving and thought provoking manner. All others others in the ensemble cast are woven into the story seamlessly. Robert Morse IS George Washington, and the actor who played George III was incredible as well. In fact EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING was incredible-and the first "White House" (burned down in the War of 1812) is a special effects gem in the mold of "Lord of the Rings" or "King Kong" .
Every 8th grade in the country should buy the DVD (at the educational discount as it is $50 or so) and make it a required two weeks of history lessons instead of the dreadful PC films that are out there. It will encourage reading of the book and maybe get everybody (including adults) to get this country back on track. The last line of the movie is as relevant today as when it was made in the 1820's-"Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it."
I too have never been a fan of history so it was with some sort of hesitation that I watched the first episode of John Adams. It was the most interesting historical drama I have ever watched and it hooked me for the next episode. And then something else happened. I have been consumed with reading more history. In my quest for more information, I have learned something which I believe most Americans do not understand. Given the condition which this country has slipped into, with the fine line of separation of church and state being tested to the maximum, I find that many of the men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, were very much against having a state sponsored religion. I find the term that this country was founded on Christian principles, not to be correct. Our founding fathers made it quite clear that they wanted separation between church and state. Perhaps we should all revisit in depth our history and how we became the United States of America.
A dramatic film about John Adams, the great unsung Founding Father, is long overdue. Granted, it is a mighty if not insurmountable challenge to translate to TV serial form the life story of a man of great accomplishments who survived to the age of 90 in the 18th-19th centuries. One would need at least 20 episodes. This series has a mere 7. The filmmakers' strategy is initially total immersion in the dialogues of colonial politics preceding the revolution to the point of wearing our patience. Messages are conveyed clumsily, with each famous personage delivering the Great Quotes He is Known For as part of casual conversation. We are being spoonfed. Then as each episode unfolds this wearying focus begins to drift from place to place and era to era until by the time Adams ascends to the Presidency the story is told in episodic flashes, albeit flashes containing as much narrative information the screenwriter can unobtrusively jam in. The whole Adams Presidency zips by in one episode. The whole post-Presidency (a quarter century in real time) zips by in 55 minutes. By biting off more than they could chew, the makers of this film have perhaps spat out too much. Each episode contains at least one high point when expert acting combined with brilliant staging and just the right dialogue offer appropriate insights into the man, his times and the human condition. At the end when Adams is asked to give his opinion on a mural depicting the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence the cantankerous old man lets rip on the dishonesty of telling people that all of the Founding Fathers in benign, glowing togetherness held a ceremony to sign the great piece of paper. He declares the true history of the American Revolution "lost." There are some fine performances here: Stephen Dillane as a wry and sly Thomas Jefferson; Laura Linney as the practical, devoted, opinionated and stern-yet-passionate Abigail, delivering her lines with just the right "mid-Lantic" accent that one would expect a woman raised in 18th century New England to have. Sarah Polley scores as the daughter of the Adamses and Tom Wilkinson takes on Ben Franklin with gusto. But poor Paul Giamatti in the title role! He looks nothing like John Adams (the late John Houseman was a dead ringer) and never quite gets his accent to click with his co-players. You are almost always aware that he is acting, and doing a yeoman's job of it, but it is not John Adams that you feel when watching him. People in very authoritative positions as regards this project believe he is brilliant. I respect their opinion, but strongly disagree with it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you read my separate reviews of the 7 parts of the series then I
suggest you read them first.
The series is about John Adams played in a wonderful performance by Paul Giamatti who is fighting for freedom for the colonies. It also takes a look at him as president and covers his problems at home along with his wife Abigail played by Laura Linney.
If you have not seen this mini-series I say check it out. One thing was going on in my mind while watching this: why does Samuel Adams gets a beer named after him when he did not do any thing where as John Adams did a lot of things. The performances are really well done but some people are wondering why this was not a movie. Well the answer is it didn't need to be a movie because it has too much of a story to tell, and I think that the way it was done here was great. Definitely check it out. It's well paced and well told.
How much do you know about John Adams? I mean really know? If you're
Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough, you know enough to
share this enigmatic former President with the world.
Not much of a congenial man, nor known to hold his tongue in tight situations, Adams has often been brushed aside by historians in favor of the more famous George Washington (played here by David Morse, 16 BLOCKS) and Declaration of Independence creator Thomas Jefferson (played by Stephen Dillane, THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED). Even Ben Franklin (Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON) has more political notoriety than poor Mr. Adams. But Adams is so incredibly important to our nation that he deserves much more notice, and thanks to Mr. McCullough's astounding novel, there's been a resurgence in interest to the former President, thus this new miniseries by HBO.
Paul Giamatti (LADY IN THE WATER) stars as John Adams, the first Vice-President (Did you remember that?) and the second President of these United States (Did you remember that, too?). His trail to fame and Presidential glory is paved with danger, disease, love, and loss.
Giamatti's performance is especially notable in that he pulls off a "man of the times" role in effortless fashion. It didn't hurt, either, that the costumes were exquisitely done, the sets dirty, muddy and generally what one would expect to see around the mid-late-and-post 1700s. Adams lived to a ripe old age, too, of 91 (a good run in any era). During his lifetime he will be witness to the Boston Massacre, the Revolution against Great Britain, become the first minister to Britain after the U.S. gained its independence, and serve as Vice-President and President. A life not ordinary. Especially when you consider the nature of the man: broodish, quick to anger, stubborn in decision-making. But his temper was ...tempered by a friendship that would last a lifetime. And I'm not talking about his well-known association with Thomas Jefferson. I'm talking about the person whom he called "My dearest friend." Of course, this was Abigail Adams (played with exceptional poise by Laura Linney, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE), his dedicated wife and stalwart confidant. The two were opposite sides of the same coin and proved to be a formidable pairing. When John was angry, Abigail calmed him. When he was writing, Abigail was his editor. When he was away from home (often), she took care of the children, the farm ...everything.
Although this miniseries didn't incorporate all that John Adams was (how could it?), it did perform the prerequisite of showing us a glimpse of a man and how he battled the developing politics of his new country while trying to be the patriarchal leader of his extended family. Being a beer drinking man myself, I couldn't help but pay closer attention whenever Samuel Adams (John Adams' cousin) was mentioned or showed up on screen (played by Danny Huston, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT). Although just a side-note by comparison to the rest of the film, it is topical to mention that John Adams' son, John QUINCY Adams (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, THE LAKE HOUSE), was the first son of a former President to become President himself (but I think he did a tad better at it than our current 'son-of-a-former-President'). These touched-on items added more historical depth to the story and made the viewing audience equally enamored with John Adams even if the man himself was the complete opposite.
This seven part miniseries is exceptional with costumes and sets that play the part just as well as the actors themselves. And if you've forgotten about John Adams' past, well, this is a nice refresher.
This series is an excellent presentation of the complex lives of our
founding fathers with the focus, of course, on John & Abigail. The
extra feature of "facts are stubborn things" that presents additional
historical detail while watching is an excellent feature, and it
answers many questions that may arise as you view.
Giamatti does not look at all like the portraits of Adams, and this is disconcerting in the beginning, but he is such a fine character actor - and this role a character actor's dream, that he is completely believable. I usually find Linney too bland for my taste, but her reserve here is excellent, and this may be her finest acting work on film - where she has this role of such depth - social restraint with great intelligence.
This is a real high point for HBO that shows that they can match the quality of BBC miniseries in historical accuracy, fine scripting, no prurient sex scenes, glorious costumes, and the casting of many British stars. But really, when it comes to period dramas, Hollywood has always preferred to cast Brits over the thousands of capable American stage actors that they don't have time to audition. Meow.
I love that this is one HBO film that makes the marital bed seem much more inviting than an affair. This is excellent. I'm buying the set for my father!
*** 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.
All kinds of tributes here to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, especially the
use of a lot of the same classical music pieces and some camera work,
such as Laura Linney's looking out from under her elaborate hat at the
end of this episode. A little distracting to those of us who remember
Barry Lyndon, which portrayed very different problems and
relationships. Barry Lyndon was about the inevitable triumph of the
British stiff upper class over the bullheaded Irish upstart. Sort of
the opposite to the American revolution.
I think the music editors were just going for a stately, period sound without worrying too much about the source being inappropriate.
Still, a very interesting series. American politics then and now...I'm looking forward to the next episode, "An Unnecessary War". The acting is really amazing, unlike the acting in Barry Lyndon!
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.
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