Tuesday, March 3, 2009

John Adams (2008)

John Adams (HBO Miniseries)

The HBO miniseries John Adams which ran last year is now on DVD. My mother bought a copy for us, assuring my husband and me that it is a film we will want to watch over and over again. She was right. It is difficult to analyze the production without having first read David McCullough's acclaimed biography. I have not read it, and so am reflecting merely as someone who loves eighteenth century history and period pieces. John Adams is a superb production which brings to life a statesman and Founding Father who has been brushed aside so often in the history of the nation for which he sacrificed so much. Paul Giamatti captures the persona of our second President in what must be one of the most stellar portrayals of a historical figure of all time. Short-tempered and stocky, with a brilliant mind and principled character, Adams is shown as being the conscience of the American Revolution, tempering the radical genius of the likes of Jefferson and Franklin, insisting upon the rule of law and avoiding violence when possible.

The core of Adams' story, and indeed of his very being, is his relationship with his wife Abigail (Laura Linney.) It seems unlikely at first that plain, portly Adams could be the hero in a passionate love story but he most certainly is. The love of Abigail for her John is depicted with such intense beauty that I almost began to imagine that I was in love with him myself. John and Abigail's devotion to each other and to their children spilled over into their unwavering commitment to their country.

My favorite part, of course, is when Adams goes to France, where he retains his gravitas and propriety in spite of everything, especially in spite of Franklin, who had become the toast of the most decadent element of French high society. As Franklin enjoys himself to a superlative degree, Adams pines for his Abigail most endearingly. The one flaw I found in the film which really bothered me is the scene where Adams is presented to Louis XVI. Louis XVI is miserably and most inaccurately depicted. The King was a plain, blunt man, rather like Adams himself, not a mincing popinjay. And he was tall. Furthermore, Louis would never have made fun of Adams. I am disappointed.

Adams seemed to do better in England, where he was sent as ambassador. When Adams is presented to King George III, he is obviously awed by meeting the sovereign against whom he had helped to lead a revolution; there is a sort of meeting of minds between the two men. King George, like King Louis, actually had a great deal in common with Adams, sharing a love of simplicity and devotion to family and hard work.

Overall, the HBO production does not spare the Founding Fathers; the quarreling, the back-stabbing, the character flaws are all there, as well as the ingenuity and heroism. The weaknesses in the American experiment, elements that would plague the nation in future years, such as slavery, are not glossed over. It was patriots such as Adams who made the system work; he perceived his duty to serve his country in an elected office, only to surrender the reins of power when the term expired, and go home.

There is no monument to John Adams in Washington, D.C. as there are monuments to Washington and Jefferson, as least not that I have ever been aware of. The new film is in some ways the best memorial of all, since it shows to the American people what it is to be truly committed to one's spouse, family and country. Honesty, loyalty, diligence and integrity... these are qualities which John and Abigail Adams embodied, and which we have begun to forget, although they made our country great. Share


Joanna Waugh said...

I too love the Adams mini series. I was particularly struck with what happened when he became vice president and presided over the Senate. Adams, because of the role he played in creating this country, was under the impression he would act as mentor there. He thought the senators would listen to his sage advice and learn at the feet of the master, so to speak. They hated him and systematically neutered his influence in the Senate and, ultimately, the influence of every vice president that came after him. Imagine what the vice presidency might have been if they hadn't disliked Adams so!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I learned so much about how how political system got to be the way it is from watching the miniseries! Thank you for stopping by, Joanna!

Linda said...

Thanks for this post. I be watching this asap.

Abecedarius Rex said...

The toughest scene was the daughter's cancer. We'd just been through that twice, once with my wife, and once losing my father. What Adams and his Abigail in those days of horrid medicine must have endured is beyond measure. The series in general is stunning in that it depicts the human beings in human situations accomplishing this remarkable event of the founding. Very worth the watch.

Margaret said...

I enjoyed this series as well. I appreciated how characters were allowed to be 'real' - their teeth were bad, they had wrinkles and gray hair. It wasn't a Hollywood airbrushed type of portrayal, which was refreshing!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

This was indeed a spectactular miniseries, so glad you're enjoying it, and McCullough's book is excellent.

elena maria vidal said...

I agree with you all!

lara77 said...

I agree Elena Maria; they had King Louis XVI being fussed over as he was being dressed; then the King laughs at Adams because he does not understand French!It is so sad that historians do not know King Louis XVI.If you are doing a series for television PLEASE do your historical research. The producers certainly got George III better than Louis XVI!

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