When HBO’s mini-series John Adams dominated Hollywood’s award season several years ago, I put the show on my to-watch list and forgot about it. I’m reminded of my initial interest in it nearly every time I work – patrons regularly borrow the DVDs – I see them coming and going like New York Times Bestsellers. I’m delighted to say that a recent surf of the TV desert prompted me to borrow the three disc set, sit down, and be enlightened.
So, here’s the thing. John Adams deserved every bit of critical acclaim it received, and more. It is eight hours and twenty minutes of compelling entertainment. If I didn’t know better, I would think this was Masterpiece Theater (sorry HBO, I’m just sayin…). The production values are classy, and make this biopic one of the best TV on DVD series I’ve had the pleasure to watch.
The seven episode mini-series, based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, begins in Boston, 1770, and ends with Adams’ death on July 4, 1826. Although he will always be recognized as one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, John Adams’ story isn’t normally covered in basic US History classes with as much gusto as some, perhaps because he didn’t fit our idea of a typical “revolutionary”. Of course, historical television fictionalizes and sometimes blatantly distorts, but I loved HBO’s portrait of John Adams as a disagreeable and unpopular statesman. Romanticized, sanitized versions of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are fine for eight year olds, but the reality of the men who declared independence from England is to my mind equal parts gritty and elegant. Think Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence author, Monticello architect, and Sally Hemings’ lover. John Adams tells of real people who were brilliant and passionate and moody.
The restrained love Adams felt for Abigail, his steadfast wife, was fiercely and beautifully played by Paul Giamatti as John Adams with Laura Linney as Abigail. Certain liberties were taken with their children’s ages, etc., and Adams never abandoned his son Charles, but it’s great TV. Adams’ relationships with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are explored in depth as the series fills in an outline of the painful, beautiful birth of our country.
I urge you to watch John Adams, available through the Metro Library Network.