Tuesday, March 18, 2008

John Adams: Thoughts While Watching HBO's Miniseries

Back in January I wrote about the upcoming miniseries about President John Adams. Last night I watched the first two episodes. As I watched I jotted down some things that I found interesting.

*Ben Franklin….his portrayal makes you want to sit down and have a private audience with him…it’s just that good. Thomas Jefferson…..you would never have thought he would be so quiet…

*As a whole what I’ve seen so far shares great visuals of social mannerisms and dress for the time period. Everyone looks a little unkept and they should. Without hair dryers and permanent press things were much, much different. The tar and feathering scene was hard to watch. We tend to place the Patriots on a pedestal, but they did some very alarming things in their quest to establish their rights. These actions should not be forgotten.

*The trial for the soldiers following the Boston Massacre was particularly interesting as the court system we are used to didn't exist. Very few Americans realize Adams represented the British soldiers let alone that the incident was used as propaganda by the Sons of Liberty.

*I was especially touched by the scene in part one where Adams comes in after the trial is over and asks a young John Quincy Adams to help him remove his boots. Knowing how the events end as I do I couldn’t help but think, “There are two presidents of the United States, and they don’t even have a country yet.”

*Ok, some details are being left out, but it is a movie afterall…Following Lexington and Concord, Abigail Adams recognizes the body of Dr. Warren in a cart, but that's not the whole story.

*The conversations between Adams and his wife, Abigail, were the standout moments of part one and part two. Her importance over the life of John Adams cannot and should not be glossed over in any classroom. It is an interesting point that her counsel was so important yet today we seem to have hissy fit if we think our fearless leaders take counsel from their wives. Hmmm….. One sentence of Abigail’s struck me rather forcefully….”I’m frightened. I’m afraid this war will never end or begin.” Twenty-first century Americans are rather comfortable in our freedom. We tend to forget those that forged the way for us. It was rife with doubt and fears.

*The road to making the declaration that the colonies were free was not an easy one and to a certain extent the miniseries shows this. The personal convictions expressed and the zeal with with the pros and cons were weighed were riveting. I couldn’t help but laugh at one point when the delegates are arguing into the night and it’s so very hot in the room mainly because the windows were kept closed so folks wouldn’t overhear them. Adams removes his wig at one point. He gets caught up in the conversation and begins to speak. Then he realizes he doesn’t have his wig on and quickly places it back on his head.

The scene where Franklin and Adams are reviewing Jefferson’s efforts with drafting the Declaration of Independence was so interesting. Again, the slavery issue was discussed and those two little words……”self-evident.”

*At the moment the vote is taken for independence the stunned silence at what they have done is a highlight not to be missed….and one delegate got it so right when he said Congress had the opportunity to do what no other group of men had done in history up to that time in forming a government where all men would be free. How I wish they had settled the slavery issue at the Constitutional Congress following the Revolution?

Some people weren't impressed with the portrayal of Adams while overall others like the series so far. Read those reviews here and here


griftdrift said...

Overall I was pretty impressed. I'm currently reading the McColluch book and I think Giamatti really connects with Adams as the brilliant mind tucked away in the slightly bumbling body of an everyman.

One thing I thought was curious was Dickinson's portrayal. While true he was initially against independence and was key in the last ditch appeal to King George, his Letter From A Farmer In Pennsylvania didn't really argue for reconcilliation. Although they did argue for the authority of parliament. He really was a mixed soul.

I suppose we will see him coming around as an officer in the army as is implied at the end.

EHT said...

Hi! I thought Giamatti did well also. Adams would have been the guy you would avoid, if you know what I mean, but he was so passionate in what he believed. I'm looking forward to watching the events of the election of 1800.

I thought the actor that plays Dickinson did a great job playing a tortured soul. His face at times showed such pain.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of this.

ms-teacher said...

I wanted to thank you for writing about this series. I'm a subscriber to HBO, but I guess I don't want it enough because I didn't realize that this was even on!

I've been very impressed overall by this series. I also had thought about how different our history might have been had they settled the slavery issue (as in outlawing it outright).

Anonymous said...

Here is a smartly written and interesting article on John Adams and the current foreclosure crisis. Interesting to note the author Mike Bolen is a descendant of John Adams. www.MikeBolen.com