Having seen the first three episodes of HBO’s “John Adams” series, I’m mostly delighted with it, though with a few reservations.
On the plus side, the production is a muscular one that conveys the risks of life during the Revolution. The army scenes aptly show the miserable conditions endured by the soldiers. It’s good to be reminded of the tremendous sacrifices the early Americans made. And the medical/health scenes (amputation of a sailor’s leg, the inoculation of the Adams children against smallpox) are truly squirm-inducing.
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A young-ish John Adams
The production also has done a solid job of covering Adams’ high points (pushing for the Declaration of Independence in 1776; defending the British soldiers who fired on the crowd in the Boston Massacre of 1771) while still acknowledging his difficult qualities. I particularly liked the depiction of Adams’ reaction to the news that Franklin had negotiated an alliance treaty with France while Adams was still en route to Paris. Adams (in the show) is plainly disappointed rather than overjoyed, more concerned with his own vanity than the great achievement for the country.
I have somewhat accepted Paul Giamatti as Adams, but still struggle with Laura Linney as Abigail. The acress is too nice, and altogether too attractive. Abigail had a distinctly acerbic side — I particularly admire her letter to young John Quincy Adams in which she calls him a blockhead — and that has been softened too much for my taste.
And although I am a huge Tom Wilkinson fan (he was one of the spectacular parts of the generally spectacular movie, “Michael Clayton”), he has not solved the riddle of Ben Franklin. The scenes between Franklin and Adams have not worked for me. I’m not sure if it’s the actors or the writing or the direction, but they feel flat.
But this is unfair carping (what other kind of carping is there?). It’s fabulous that someone had the courage to do the show, and has done it so well. I’m still hoping to find funding for a similar project based on The Summer of 1787, so any readers wishing to underwrite that series should respond ASAP, before it’s too late.
HBO is eager to tell you more about the show, at http://www.hbo.com/films/johnadams/
What do you think about the series?

1 Comment

  1. John Curry on April 10, 2008 at 1:01 am

    David, enjoyed your blog today, particularly the review of HBO’s “John Adams.”
    I confess I’m fan of “Rome” and now Adams and was hopeful that serious historians would enjoy the adaptations. jc

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