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John Adams (2008). (TV Mini-series)   rating

Review: written May 2009

TV historical drama does not get much better

John Adams (2008). (TV Mini-series)

Occasionally a TV drama comes along that makes you regret using 5 stars on something else, just so you can say this one is that much better. This is one of those!

From start to end, we are presented with a compelling drama, which is not only reeking of authenticity (though of course, what do I know - I'm not an historian..) but is an absorbing portrayal of a couple in love, a family in motion, and the birth of a nation.

Paul Giamatti is simply superb casting to play John Adams - a man who is not portrayed as charismatic or handsome, but clever, sincere, moral and committed. Events start with the Boston Massacre, leading up to the Boston Tea Party, the War of Independence (unseen for the most part since Adams spent most of the time in Europe), the drafting of the Constitution and of course his term as the second president of the United States, before his retirement years. It's not told as a simplistic TV movie of the week ‘triumph in hard times’, but is told as a well rounded look at the man through a fascinating historical period. Some victories, some defeats, some frustrations, but most of all the relationships with people he knew. Most fascinating of these was his wife Abigail, portrayed in definitive form by the ever adaptable Laura Linney. It seems the story of one is equally the story of the other, so intertwined are their narratives. And then there are other supporting cast members, David Morse as Washington, Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson and Tom Wilkinson having a blast as Benjamin Franklin.

Events are never told with rose coloured glasses.. this is warts and all, and even handed, showing Adam's frustrations and bitterness as well as his successes, and indeed also the country's sometimes ugly birth pangs as it discovers its identity. There is little in the way of big budget battle scenes, the battles are for the most part off screen. And yet despite often being a talking heads exercise, the canvas is writ large, giving the impression at times that we really are looking through a window to the times, rather than a cleaned up portrayal of it.

Recommended, for both those interested in a pivotal time in history, and those interested in the development of a fascinating character and those around him.

John Adams (2008). (TV Mini-series)

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