Thursday, April 03, 2008

John Adams (HBO)

Wikipedia entry on "John Adams": John Adams, Jr. (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was the second President of the United States (1797–1801). He also served as America's first Vice President (1789–1797).

That's all I knew about John Adams. His face never appeared on a U.S. bill. His image does not appear as a part of Mount Rushmore. As important as he seemed to be in the establishment of the young United States of America, most of us attending public school haven't a clue about who he was.

HBO is filling in the details for us. And now we have an idea about why Adams doesn't have legends built around him, or $5 bills with his picture engraved on them. He was stubby, bald, and very stubborn, not, perhaps, what legends are made of. In comparison with General George Washington or even his cousin, Sam Adams, he wasn't charismatic. Or tall. He was easy to overlook, even in history.

This seven-part HBO miniseries consumes some 15 hours of screentime. In high-definition with no commercials, it's easy to watch, but still I thought I'd be bored. I'm more excited than bored. And eagerly awaiting the next chapter in what is a mystery of American history.

The vistas are gorgeous, from the snow-covered hills of Virginia, where his horse plods slowly towards town, to the gold-covered halls of Versailles. It seems that HBO spared no expense in this production, and it is, indeed, beautiful to watch. However, this story is all in the details, not its eye-catching surroundings. We see a great deal of Adams' family life, his close relationship with his wife, Abigail, who seems to be as wise as Adams. We also see his not always tranquil relationships with his children. And we get long glimpses of his battles with those political heroes we've all read about, some his foes and some his friends. With all of them -- from the reticent Thomas Jefferson to the wise-cracking Benjamin Franklin -- he argues. And the texture of these portrayals is rich and sumptuous.

Here is just an example of the details given to us: when the Continental Congress comes together in 1776, it's June. There's no air conditioning in the 18th century. So all the men are sitting there sweating. Many take their wigs off, and, as they're speaking, they wipe the perspiration off their heads. Then place the wigs back on. (Thank God when the States broke away from England, they stopped wearing wigs!)

Paul Giamatti hasn't found a character more worthy of his talents. It really is hard for me to remember that I'm watching an actor. And Laura Linney can add Abigail Adams to her long list of accomplishments. It's fascinating to see how a forward-thinking woman dealt with what role she was given to play back then.

At this point, I've seen over half of the mini-series. I can't wait for my DVR to find the episode each Sunday so that I can visit the 1800's once more and learn about the details of our American past.

Thumb's up.


At 12:03 PM, Blogger Sheryl said...

I knew about John Adams because of the movie _1776_ which my jr. high school went to see around 1976. Fair history, great music! It intrigued me enough at the time to read a bit more about John and especially Abigail Adams.


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