Inspiring Foundational Drama
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney,
Stephen Dillane, David Morse,
Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston,
Sarah Polley, Rufus Sewell,
and Justin Theroux
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 496 minutes in seven parts of
Distributor: HBO/Time Warner
Director: Tom Hooper
Executive Producer: Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman
Producer: David Coatsworth and Steven
Writer: Kirk Ellis
Address Comments To:Bill Nelson, Chairman/CEO
HBO (A Time Warner subsidiary)
Collin Callender, President
2500 Broadway, Suite 400
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone: (310) 382-3000
The series starts in 1770, with each episode taking place a few years apart. So, the audience gets seven different insights into Adams and his effect on America’s founding.
The first episode, “Join or Die,” covers the years 1770 to 1774 and opens with the British troops firing in Boston Commons on American protestors. Facing the intense hate of the colonists, the British captain asks Adams to represent him, because Adams is known for his dedication to the law and his integrity. In spite of the lynch mob mentality of the Americans and the jury, Adams carefully shows that the British were entrapped into shooting, and he gets the British soldiers released.
Rather than hurting his reputation with the colonists, John’s brave dedication to justice increases it. When the British King, George III, starts to impose more draconian taxes on the Americans, Samuel Adams, John’s second cousin and long-time political activist, asks John to represent Massachusetts in Philadelphia, where all the thirteen Colonies are meeting.
In the next episode, “Independence,” which covers the years from 1774 to 1176, the rebellion has been pushed forward by the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. Adams nominates George Washington to command the Continental Army and is a key architect of the Declaration, but he enlists Jefferson to write it, because he is too blunt to indulge in the compromises required by politics, or so Ben Franklin tells him. Back home in Massachusetts, Adams’ family is facing an outbreak of smallpox and a frightening new medical procedure.
Episode 3, entitled “Don’t Tread on Me,” covers the years from 1777 to 1781, as the country is trying to determine what type of government would be best for the American States. Adams, before he has the opportunity to shape the Constitution, is sent to France as Minister Plenipoteniary, to join Franklin, who is already there. Adams is totally out of place. Franklin, on the other hand, is courting the Countess and fits in very well with the French Court. After he annoys the French court by demanding too much, Adams travels to Holland to solicit funding for the American Revolution. In Holland, he is again rebuffed, and he falls deathly ill.
The “Reunion” episode covers the years from 1781 to 1789. After the British surrender, the Dutch start to fund the new United States, and Adams returns to France and sends for Abigail. Jefferson comes to France too, and the three of them begin to delight in the French culture. Adams is then sent to Britain as the first Ambassador and secures an amicable relationship with King George III. Adams returns to the United States to be elected Washington’s Vice President. Jefferson and Adams start to quarrel, because Alexander Hamilton is trying to make the presidency a monarchy, and Jefferson argues for Republicanism, if not anarchy.
In part 5 “Unite or Die” (1788 to 1797), Adams is elected the second President of the United States. His time in the office is painful for him, however, because his friendship with Jefferson is strained to the breaking point. Also, family problems cast a shadow over his life.
In part 6 entitled “Unnecessary War” (1798 to 1802), Jefferson, the Vice President, supports the French Revolution, but Hamilton wants Adams to go to war against the French. Adams remains neutral but loses all support. Adams’ neutrality is proved to be the correct position just days after he loses the next election to Jefferson.
In the last episode, “Peacefield” (1802 to 1826), Adams writes his famous memoirs. First his daughter Nabby, then his wife Abigail, the love of his life, dies, and Adams reconciles with Jefferson. There’s much talk about looking to Providence and putting your trust in God. Adams dies on the same day as Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826.
This is a very short overview of the mini-series. It is rich with political, philosophic and spiritual dialogue. Although it does not consistently refer to faith and Providence, this series does recognize faith in every critical moment. Also, key events take place inside the church.
The acting and direction get better and better with each episode. It is rare that people have aged so well on the big or small screen. Some critics have faulted Paul Giamatti, but he does bring an intense personal perspective to the role. Everyone applauds Laura Linney’s magnificent Abigail.
John Adams has many virtues, including the fact that he recognizes that the law is above men, but he has many flaws, including petty vanities and disowning his son and son-in-law, which drives the son to suicide and the son-in-law to abandon his family. Adams only soft side is with Abigail, who helps him see beyond his self-righteousness.
Since this period is fraught with wars, there are war scenes, scenes of wounded, sicknesses, and plagues. Only two come close to being shocking. One, when the doctor uses a plague victim for smallpox. The other, when Adams’s daughter has breast cancer, and the doctor removes the breast. The breast is shown, but blood is not shown. In the war scenes, one British officer is stripped naked, tarred and feathered and, in the distance, one can see his private parts.
The miniseries preserves the truth and history of the period, although there are dramatic devices that shift the chronology slightly and even some minor factual errors that may have been dramatic license. The Internet is replete with descriptions of the faults and flaws.
With a little judicious editing, this would be must viewing for every age group. The debates about federalism, republicanism, monarchy, and anarchy are worth their weight in time and attention. This is a great insight into the Founding Fathers and an even greater insight into the principles of Godly government. It would be hard to imagine that anyone would not learn a lot about the foundational principles of America from this excellent miniseries.
The acting and direction in JOHN ADAMS get better and better with each episode. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are outstanding as John Adams and his beloved wife, Abigail. The miniseries is rich with political, philosophic and spiritual dialogue. Although it does not consistently refer to faith and Providence, this series does recognize faith in every critical moment. Also, key events take place inside the church. There are, however, some strong war scenes and hospital scenes. A little judicious editing would make JOHN ADAMS must viewing for every age group. Bravo!