Betsy Speicher

John Adams (2008)

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25 posts in this topic

The first two episodes (of seven) are amazing. From the Boston Massacre (including Adams' courtroom defense of the British soldiers) to the Declaration of Independence, I've come away with new appreciation for this great statesman. As art, the dialogue, acting, direction, scenery, everything is excellent. I can't wait for the next episode!

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The first two episodes (of seven) are amazing. From the Boston Massacre (including Adams' courtroom defense of the British soldiers) to the Declaration of Independence, I've come away with new appreciation for this great statesman. As art, the dialogue, acting, direction, scenery, everything is excellent. I can't wait for the next episode!

I agree completely. The only thing I disliked about the first two episodes was the silly little flies that were buzzing around in the Continental Congress. Excluding that minor annoyance, the first two episodes were spectacular, particularly when he was speaking in the continental congress. His final speech to push forward the motion in favor of independence moved me from my seat, as Jefferson would have put it. In truth, it was taken from a letter to William Cushing by John Adams.

Objects of the most stupendous magnitude and measures in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested are now before us We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations...

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Thus far, having seen the first two episodes, I am very impressed by this series. I agree with the above comments . . . the ratification of separation was truly riveting as was the initial reading of Mr. Jefferson's draft Declaration by Mr. Franklin and Mr. Adams (Mr. Jefferson's one-word reply to Mr. Franklin's self-evidence question was very revealing). The performances are stellar and I especially enjoy Laura Linney's Abigail -- she has always been a fine actress, but I think this may turn out to be her finest work yet.

As for those flies . . . I didn't mind them at all. Nor did I mind any of the show's extraordinary attention to period detail that I find further illuminates the reality of the Founders' time and place. I've heard too much nonsense over the years as to the "privileged" status of these men and the supposed lives of easy luxury that we are expected to believe was the sole measure of their concern, that I consider it of tremendous value to show the simple reality not only of who and what they were but of their context. The mini-series format certainly allows for that.

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As for those flies . . . I didn't mind them at all. Nor did I mind any of the show's extraordinary attention to period detail that I find further illuminates the reality of the Founders' time and place. I've heard too much nonsense over the years as to the "privileged" status of these men and the supposed lives of easy luxury that we are expected to believe was the sole measure of their concern, that I consider it of tremendous value to show the simple reality not only of who and what they were but of their context. The mini-series format certainly allows for that.

Very good point, I did not think of it like that. I was inclined to see anything like this in a negative light after I watched The Making of John Adams where they said they wanted to make the founders "human" (i.e. flawed); this ingrained in me an expectation that this series would be a naturalistic mess. Luckily I turned out to be wrong, very wrong.

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What a great series! Did anyone else watch it to its completion?

I liked it because (a) it's not the usual trash coming out of HBO; (:D Giamatti, Linney, Wilkinson et al. are superb in their roles; © it portrayed the Founders as flawed but heroic people.

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I am looking forward to seeing this when it comes out on DVD (if it's not out already).

I have listened to the unabridged audio CD of the book and I have to advocate that book as hugely important to read in its entirety. The abridged audiobook is significantly shorter than the full book and that abridgement was apparently the cut adapted for the miniseries. That being the case, please read or hear the full book: I can't say that any small detail in that book was trivial and uninteresting. John Adams is now my biggest hero of the revolutionary period. That's my tribute to McCullough (a liberal, but, apparently, one that appreciates greatness).

Re: Those flies: Another reason for the inclusion of that "small" detail is that mosquito-borne yellow fever, malaria, and other diseases had major impacts on our early history. In Pennsylvania, especially, it killed thousands, including many representatives and their families and Adams' family lost several members to disease... almost Abigail, in fact. McCullough brings us back to that time and helps us understand how devastating such diseases were when we as yet knew so little about disease -- its cause, spread, and cure. We need to understand the context and the real risks Adams knowingly took every time he left his beloved wife and children, that he might not see them again. So that detail is germane to the plot.

As regards the adaptation of a letter to Adams' advocacy of signing the declaration, his actual remarks were never recorded. In other cases, his letters were, in a sense, a rehearsal for him, a way to organize and test his ideas. So it was probably not too far from the truth of things.

I am anxious to see the miniseries, given your recommendations. But, again, please consider the book.

What a man that Adams was! As Jefferson said (paraphrased), knowing him, it was not possible not to love him. Unlike many others of his time, he had not an ounce of guile or dishonesty, but a great deal of passion for freedom and an amazing depth of learning and the capacity to turn it into wisdom.

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I am looking forward to seeing this when it comes out on DVD (if it's not out already).

I have listened to the unabridged audio CD of the book and I have to advocate that book as hugely important to read in its entirety. The abridged audiobook is significantly shorter than the full book and that abridgement was apparently the cut adapted for the miniseries. That being the case, please read or hear the full book: I can't say that any small detail in that book was trivial and uninteresting. John Adams is now my biggest hero of the revolutionary period. That's my tribute to McCullough (a liberal, but, apparently, one that appreciates greatness).

Re: Those flies: Another reason for the inclusion of that "small" detail is that mosquito-borne yellow fever, malaria, and other diseases had major impacts on our early history. In Pennsylvania, especially, it killed thousands, including many representatives and their families and Adams' family lost several members to disease... almost Abigail, in fact. McCullough brings us back to that time and helps us understand how devastating such diseases were when we as yet knew so little about disease -- its cause, spread, and cure. We need to understand the context and the real risks Adams knowingly took every time he left his beloved wife and children, that he might not see them again. So that detail is germane to the plot.

As regards the adaptation of a letter to Adams' advocacy of signing the declaration, his actual remarks were never recorded. In other cases, his letters were, in a sense, a rehearsal for him, a way to organize and test his ideas. So it was probably not too far from the truth of things.

I am anxious to see the miniseries, given your recommendations. But, again, please consider the book.

What a man that Adams was! As Jefferson said (paraphrased), knowing him, it was not possible not to love him. Unlike many others of his time, he had not an ounce of guile or dishonesty, but a great deal of passion for freedom and an amazing depth of learning and the capacity to turn it into wisdom.

I read the book when it came out oh...7 or 8 years ago? McCullough brought those characters to life for me and seeing them on the screen portrayed by great actors was the icing on the cake. If you read and appreciate the book, you'll love the miniseries.

And as previous posters have noted, the health and safety risks of living 200+ years ago are very well done on the show...breast cancer, tooth decay, experimental inoculations for smallpox, and battlefield medicine are all touched on, in a very graphic yet tasteful way.

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The very good impression I had after the first two episodes was sustained throughout the rest of this superlative HBO Series.

I was most impressed by the series' having taken on, albeit in summary form, many of the essential philosophical and political questions and ideas that fueled the fire of this nation's founding and earliest years. This was particularly true of Episode 6 which covered Adams' actual presidency: the questions that stood at the heart of the rift that drove Adams and Jefferson apart, and which in only slightly altered form continue to dominate American political discourse today, were explored with a degree of honesty and directness that I have not seen in any other televised or filmed treatments of this period. Adams' steadfastness in keeping the new nation out of the French/English war, a hugely unpopular position at the time and one which cost him re-election in 1800, is dealt with at length and treated (correctly, in my view) as the crucial factor in the continued survival of America as an independent nation. The reasons for his initial hesitation in signing the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 and his ultimate, difficult decision to approve it -- one of the final blows to his relationship with Jefferson -- are also explored.

The series shows the founders not as perfect men, but as individuals who, though sometimes perplexed and even overwhelmed by the essential questions before them and which very few had ever asked and answered before, were nonetheless willing to grapple with them directly and openly and to stand by their choices and decisions irrespective of the cost to themselves. They were men of honor and principle. This, perhaps more than anything else, should make John Adams required viewing for America's Junior and High School students who have no comparable examples of the type today in the public eye.

In its final episode, the series did take some "poetical" liberties with historical fact, in particular the timing of the resumption of Adams' and Jefferson's correspondence. But the choices made in this regard did not in any way diminish or significantly alter the overall picture.

Although the performances are superb from one and all, my special mention must go to Laura Linney for her portrayal of Abigail -- her very best work to date in my view lavished on a really wonderful character.

PS: Speaking of good acting (and writing), I pity any admirers of Alexander Hamilton who happen to take in Rufus Sewell's performance in this series . . . boy-oh-boy, what a piece of work he was, and Mr. Sewell plays him for all it's worth!

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PS: Speaking of good acting (and writing), I pity any admirers of Alexander Hamilton who happen to take in Rufus Sewell's performance in this series . . . boy-oh-boy, what a piece of work he was, and Mr. Sewell plays him for all it's worth!

That is so very true! I don't know much of Alexander Hamilton but in the series he seemed to have the unbounded political and military ambition of a Caesar.

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I just finished watching this...

PHENOMENAL!

I can't recommend it highly enough. The attention to historical detail is so impressive, and the production design is just breathtaking. It conveyed the stature of the historical characters of the period, and their honor (and sometimes near-villainy). It sags a bit in the middle while Adams is in Europe, but then picks up again on his return.

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I just finished watching this...

PHENOMENAL!

I can't recommend it highly enough. The attention to historical detail is so impressive, and the production design is just breathtaking. It conveyed the stature of the historical characters of the period, and their honor (and sometimes near-villainy). It sags a bit in the middle while Adams is in Europe, but then picks up again on his return.

The book on which is was based, is better. Both the book and the mini-series were somewhat hard on Ben Franklin, who was the smartest of the Founders, even smarter then Jefferson. It also treated Jefferson, less as a "god" than as a flawed and conflicted man.

However, as a limited scope dramatization of a complicated historical account it surely is good of its kind.

ruveyn

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I agree completely. The only thing I disliked about the first two episodes was the silly little flies that were buzzing around in the Continental Congress. Excluding that minor annoyance, the first two episodes were spectacular, particularly when he was speaking in the continental congress. His final speech to push forward the motion in favor of independence moved me from my seat, as Jefferson would have put it. In truth, it was taken from a letter to William Cushing by John Adams.

The Continental Congress met during the warm months in Philadelphia, which at the time was a boggy humid place. The means of disposing of waste had not been fully developed (although such a system was started by the practical Ben Franklin). You can bet there were flies in abundance! Such a touch added accuracy to the historical ambiance of the mini-series. Our Founders sweated and stank. Body Oder there was. There were no deodorant sticks in that time, no running water and no frequent baths or showers. Since the mini-series was produced in such a way as to convey the historical ambiance, the flies were a rather good touch. During the years that the Congress sat at Philadelphia there was even an outbreak of Yellow Fever. The mosquitoes were just as abundant as the flies.

ruveyn

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Freedom shall reign, in America!

:huh:

Great show. I didn't see the last few episodes so I hope they were as excellent as all the starting one. I love the little touches which history-buff Tom Hanks added into the show: the disembodied snake standard carried with ominous ferocity, and Latin quotations which Abigail Adams was teaching to her children while John supervised.

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Freedom shall reign, in America!

:huh:

To borrow from Franklin: if we can keep it.

Great show. I didn't see the last few episodes so I hope they were as excellent as all the starting one. I love the little touches which history-buff Tom Hanks added into the show: the disembodied snake standard carried with ominous ferocity, and Latin quotations which Abigail Adams was teaching to her children while John supervised.

I was somewhat disappointed by everything following the Declaration of Independence. I thought the whole tenor of the show changed at that point, that the sense of life became malevolent. (This opinion is subject to change with subsequent viewings.) Up to that point I agree, it was phenomenal.

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I was somewhat disappointed by everything following the Declaration of Independence. I thought the whole tenor of the show changed at that point, that the sense of life became malevolent. (This opinion is subject to change with subsequent viewings.) Up to that point I agree, it was phenomenal.

This is my view also, although I'm not quite sure when the malevolence began. Adams was portrayed from that point onwards as a snarling, pockmarked man at war with reality. As such, I couldn't give the series great praise. I also didn't like the use of a British actor to portray Jefferson, who was quintessentially American. I'm not saying the actor didn't capture Jefferson's dignity and stature, but we are talking about Independence from Britain here, so that break - in all its ramifications - must be stressed.

Nevertheless, the depiction of Adams' marriage was the first time any production had made me almost desperately eager to be married. Their reunion in Europe was one of the most moving moments of the series. I also loved David Morse's George Washington -- his swearing-in had me close to tears.

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Some reference to that might stem from Adams' own life, which was not getting happier as he grew in age, and in some ways lacked the fiery idealism of the Revolution. He thought the Americans were slowly losing grip on the very principles the country was founded on, and was deeply distressed that Europe violently started going against the Enlightenment right around the year 1800.

But even if that's so you could argue that the show must keep a positive spin and present his struggle with something benevolent to offset it. Perhaps this desire by Hanks to stick closely to Adams' life without any frills is a slight case of Naturalism.

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I also didn't like the use of a British actor to portray Jefferson, who was quintessentially American.

Dude... they were all basically Brits still at the time! :huh:

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Nevertheless, the depiction of Adams' marriage was the first time any production had made me almost desperately eager to be married. Their reunion in Europe was one of the most moving moments of the series. I also loved David Morse's George Washington -- his swearing-in had me close to tears.

I couldn't agree more . . . It's my understanding that the reunion was one of the scenes for which the writers had prepared more dialogue but, because of the nuanced communicativeness particularly of Miss Linney's physical performance, much of it was discarded.

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I also didn't like the use of a British actor to portray Jefferson, who was quintessentially American.

Dude... they were all basically Brits still at the time! :huh:

That's exactly right. One would have heard a dizzying array of accents in 18th Century America. There's no way we can know for sure, but it would not surprise me in the least if if Jefferson, being as cultivated a man as he was, had more of a "British English" sound than some others. Incidentally, the high New England accent Miss Linney uses (which, Katherine Hepburn having died, one hardly hears anymore today) was a direct descendant of a type of British pronunciation.

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I also didn't like the use of a British actor to portray Jefferson, who was quintessentially American.

Dude... they were all basically Brits still at the time! :huh:

That's exactly right. One would have heard a dizzying array of accents in 18th Century America. There's no way we can know for sure, but it would not surprise me in the least if if Jefferson, being as cultivated a man as he was, had more of a "British English" sound than some others. Incidentally, the high New England accent Miss Linney uses (which, Katherine Hepburn having died, one hardly hears anymore today) was a direct descendant of a type of British pronunciation.

I agree that there would have been a smorgasbord of accents in the 18th century. Jefferson's cultivation - and the fact that they were still British subjects - occurred to me, and was factored into my thinking. I still believe though that Jefferson would have had a Virginian accent, albeit of an aristocratic lilt. I think his accent would have been something like Daniel Day-Lewis' in There Will Be Blood (if you can stand to watch that that execrable movie) but with a slight Northern Virginia twang.

Besides, the actor chosen to play him did not employ a "cultivated" British accent, but a "regular" working/middle class one. The actor, Stephen Dillane (Goal!, King Arthur), ably captured Jefferson's essence in virtually every other area though, so I do not mean to belittle his very good work.

-------

Ironically, as I googled to find Dillane's name for this post, I came across this blog entry about Dillane's accent. The entry gives me more to consider. The blogger writes:

My latest “discovery” is Stephen Dillane, the brilliant British (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) stage and film actor. Most recently, Dillane played Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams miniseries. It didn’t hurt that he played my favorite Founding Father exactly as I had always imagined him: an enigmatic intellectual, at once fiery and guarded; eloquent and shy. I was immediately hooked. Who wouldn’t be? It was a terrific performance, right down to his accent, which began as slightly Gaelic, but as Jefferson aged over the course of some 50 years, so did the accent – to more of a relaxed “southern” drawl. Nice touch.

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Besides, the actor chosen to play him did not employ a "cultivated" British accent, but a "regular" working/middle class one.

I didn't hear that at all. Having lived in both East Anglia and London for a time, I'm quite familiar with British working/middle class modes of speech.

Ironically, as I googled to find Dillane's name for this post, I came across this blog entry about Dillane's accent. The entry gives me more to consider. The blogger writes:

My latest “discovery” is Stephen Dillane, the brilliant British (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) stage and film actor. Most recently, Dillane played Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams miniseries. It didn’t hurt that he played my favorite Founding Father exactly as I had always imagined him: an enigmatic intellectual, at once fiery and guarded; eloquent and shy. I was immediately hooked. Who wouldn’t be? It was a terrific performance, right down to his accent, which began as slightly Gaelic, but as Jefferson aged over the course of some 50 years, so did the accent – to more of a relaxed “southern” drawl. Nice touch.

Now . . . the "slightly Gaelic" reference by the blogger I got as well from Dillane's performance. But that has nothing to do with class. It's also appropriate given the fact that Jefferson's father was Welsh, and the most influential of his two early teachers were native-born Scots and Irish (the Celtic of Wales, though a quite different language, was nonetheless a distant relative of the Gaelic of Ireland and Scotland). In short, he grew up with these sounds in his ears.

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Besides, the actor chosen to play him did not employ a "cultivated" British accent, but a "regular" working/middle class one.

I didn't hear that at all. Having lived in both East Anglia and London for a time, I'm quite familiar with British working/middle class modes of speech.

Ironically, as I googled to find Dillane's name for this post, I came across this blog entry about Dillane's accent. The entry gives me more to consider. The blogger writes:

My latest “discovery” is Stephen Dillane, the brilliant British (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) stage and film actor. Most recently, Dillane played Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams miniseries. It didn’t hurt that he played my favorite Founding Father exactly as I had always imagined him: an enigmatic intellectual, at once fiery and guarded; eloquent and shy. I was immediately hooked. Who wouldn’t be? It was a terrific performance, right down to his accent, which began as slightly Gaelic, but as Jefferson aged over the course of some 50 years, so did the accent – to more of a relaxed “southern” drawl. Nice touch.

Now . . . the "slightly Gaelic" reference by the blogger I got as well from Dillane's performance. But that has nothing to do with class. It's also appropriate given the fact that Jefferson's father was Welsh, and the most influential of his two early teachers were native-born Scots and Irish (the Celtic of Wales, though a quite different language, was nonetheless a distant relative of the Gaelic of Ireland and Scotland). In short, he grew up with these sounds in his ears.

Your historical notes have helped fill the gaps for me. Now, I can more readily accept the choice of Dillane.

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Besides, the actor chosen to play him did not employ a "cultivated" British accent, but a "regular" working/middle class one.

I didn't hear that at all. Having lived in both East Anglia and London for a time, I'm quite familiar with British working/middle class modes of speech.

I have lived in London too - for a little bit - but not in East Anglia. As I am no expert on accents, I'm not in a position to powerfully argue this point. I would have thought an educated Celt would sound very English.

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