This weekend I took some time for myself to relax and recuperate from some work drama this week (note to readers and self: if I wanted to deal with communication breakdowns and emotional interactions, I would get married) and part of that time was starting my recorded but yet-to-be watched mini-series John Adams on HBO. I was always a big history geek – well, let’s face it – no need to use the past tense – I am a big history geek. I really dig American history, particularly the Revolutionary War period, the antebellum south and World War II era diplomacy issues. Geeking out just thinking about it. I knew, then, that obviously I would enjoy John Adams so I set the DVR to record but I wasn’t feeling compelled to watch it. I sort of slogged through part one. It gave good background info and I’ve seen both the A&E Biography of John Adams and Founding Brothers. (That’s right – you heard me. I’ve seen them both. Shut up.) However, I didn’t necessarily find part one terribly compelling. Not one to give up easily, I went ahead and went for part two and this one really made the series come alive for me, and I’m really looking forward to working through the rest of the seven-part series.
Paul Giamatti plays John Adams with a doughy churlishness befitting the second president. He is obnoxious and not well-liked, a fact of which he is aware, but does not mind, until he is met with the great diplomat Ben Franklin, played with quirky sparkle by the inimitable Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson lights up the screen with his frankly humble, but wryly shrewd Franklin and makes me wish that we could expect a follow-up series with him in the title role. The wise and witty Abigail Adams is played with characteristic brilliance by the great Laura Linney. For me, a great performance from the perennial Oscar-nominee is a foregone conclusion, and Linney does not disappoint. The other founders look as though they’ve just stepped off the currency printing plates of our various bills, David Morse with his prosthetic nose and wooden teeth and Stephen Dillane as a finely featured Jefferson. Morse serpentines gingerly over the line between reserved and stoic and 2-dimensional and boring – my jury is still out on his performance. Dillane’s Jefferson is a stark contrast to Sam Neill’s offering in Sally Hemmings.
It’s a great thing to take speeches and correspondence from nearly 2-and-a-half centuries ago and make them come alive enough to appeal to a post-modern audience. The beauty of this series is its relevance to today. Adams was considered guilty of a blind hope for wanting independence from tyranny. Sound familiar?