(Because of a technical malfunction that crashed this site on April 4, and took down every post and comment after March 14, the following has been re-posted. It was originally written March 28, 2008.)
Here’s an unequivocal and enthusiastic thumbs up for HBO’s new seven-part mini-series event, “John Adams.” Based on acclaimed historian David McCullough’s best selling biography of the same name, the first three episodes have aired over the last two Sundays (click here to see two clips). It will continue for the next four Sundays.
It is the third masterful series by Tom Hanks for HBO (click here for a video interview and preview) on a period of American history, all of which insert you in the places and times depicted, and showcases Americans doing and exemplifying what made America great – inspiration to sacrifice for something greater than themselves; honor, duty, bravery, patriotism and country; and standing firmly for truth and what is right. (His previous series, also based on best selling books, were “From The Earth To The Moon,” about Project Apollo, and the World War II epic, “Band of Brothers.”)
(If you missed the first “John Adams” episodes, not to worry: HBO is repeating them on its various companion HBOs throughout. If you have digital cable, you can see them at your leisure through the On Demand feature. If you have this, check out the “Making Of” feature: It is nothing short of amazing how this was put together.)
(A sweet, home-state-boasting-irony is that the series was filmed in Virginia, the home of Adams’ friend-then-foe-then-reconciled-friend Thomas Jefferson. Adams was from Massachusetts.)
This is a fantastic production for several reasons. For one, there has never been one good movie ever made about this era. The fight for American Independence, the forming of our constitution, the beginnings of our country, and Hollywood has never done anything of quality on it - until now. Even the several documentaries on the war all focus on the military aspects. Very little has been done in a comprehensive way on the political, military, social and the day-to-day struggle it was in days well before any semblance of modern convenience. (There was nothing “simple” about those times, despite the romance of glossy history: Not when “curing” everything from colds to cancer was to bleed patients, often to the point of bleeding them to death; not with a war raging all around and Brits slashing and burning and torturing and tormenting.)
What this mini-series does – and does without political bent – is remind us exactly how difficult it was just to declare “for Independency.” This was no spontaneous uprising against the British. In fact, as Adams tells General Washington at one point, “no one dares speak of it.” But John Adams stood firm and strong for what he believed, which was right and just. He didn’t compromise his principles. He made tactical adjustments and won allies. But he spoke bluntly and unashamedly because it was the truth, yet (albeit reluctantly) he knew when to be diplomatic.
Still, Adams never went along to get along. He made his argument and persuaded people to his point of view – i.e., he was partisan. He unified people by bringing a majority to his side, not building Pyrrhic bridges and demagogic calls for unity. He wasn’t looking for a big tent. He didn’t say, “Vote for independence, but if you want some allegiance with the king, we can work it out later.” That was hard work, and that approach still is, but he knew it was the only real way to secure the people’s trust; not tempting them with flowery yet empty rhetoric.
The series is not comprehensive. It’s not going to show you every movement by Washington’s Continental Army. It’s the times through Adams’ eyes. Some things move swiftly, others show the country’s impatience at the feet dragging of others. But it’s not a thrown-together a series of vignettes, as some bios failingly are, spotlighting the high points of a character’s life.
It also shows the bravery and call to honor of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, Sam Adams, Hancock, Caesar Rodney and many others who “mutually pledged to each other” their “lives,” “wealth” and “sacred honor.” They were the original Band of Brothers.