John Adams

A few years ago, HBO produced a miniseries about John Adams based on David McCullough’s biography. I remember Andrew watching a little of this when we were staying in Williamsburg. I asked him why he was watching it and he said it was interesting. Go figure. It turns out it was a perfect movie to watch in Williamsburg (though really he didn’t watch more than 30 minutes of it, I don’t think; we stayed pretty busy) not least of all because they filmed some of the movie there. It also won 13 Emmy awards, though this is a little misleading since the miniseries category isn’t nearly as competitive as, say, comedy or drama series. It stars Paul Giamatti who has played a lot of different kinds of roles, but most famously starred in Sideways where he was a whiny loser (or maybe “winey” loser, hee hee). The miniseries is on 3 disks, spanning 8 hours. It covers Adams from the Boston Massacre up until his death which took place on the country’s 50th birthday, the same day that Thomas Jefferson died.

It is pretty slow going. John Adams isn’t someone you learn that much about in school, and Giamatti plays him as being pretty shrill. We never learn what really made Adams popular enough to become president (although for only one term). Mostly we see him standing on his principles, but rarely getting along with people. He mostly succeeds in spite of himself.

But what makes the miniseries good is not John Adams, but the characters around him, including his wife Abigail, played by Laura Linney. Abigail is John’s closest adviser and the biggest supporter. Benjamin Franklin is played well by Tom Wilkinson. Thomas Jefferson is presented as an enigmatic political philosopher by Stephen Dillane, who I had never heard of but is really good and grows on you over time. It is an interesting portrayal of George Washington as well, though it is not a big part and Washington doesn’t say much.

So the setup is good in that you have this character everyone has heard of, but nobody really knows (unlike the others, he isn’t on any money). In that way you get to see the comings and goings of all of these important people (and many others who aren’t as famous). As I watched I would go look something up on Wikipedia to get the real story. The miniseries embellishes a little or plays around with some minor facts and timelines to fit the story, but the basics are all pretty much true.

I don’t know that I can recommend this to anyone and the book is probably a better way to get to know Adams, but I didn’t mind sitting through all of it and getting a different perspective on the founding of our country.

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