The second president of the United States and “voice” of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, is a figure that often falls in the shadows of America’s better known forefathers. This perception might be as true now as it was then and it’s in part why the 7-episode HBO miniseries that follows John Adams life from his early days as a colonial lawyer in Boston through his presidency and his life after office is as interesting as it is moving.
John Adams is a truly spectacular piece of work from top to bottom and succeeds to push the genre of the mini-series itself with its production value and attention to detail. The success of the series is beyond any one element but the acting, writing, and cinematography are all extremely effective. The special effects also play a major role and go beyond that of many feature films even though you might not notice them without the “making of” feature included on the DVD.
The story itself is very well constructed following Adams, a man with as much virtue as ego and pride, through history from the Boston Massacre in 1770 through his death in 1826. Indeed the only major criticism of the series is by taking on such a large span of time, gaps occasionally develop in the timeline. Paul Giamatti, who first came to national attention in the film Sideways, is perfectly cast in the role of Adams and portrays his character without bias with his misgivings married to his philosophical brilliance. The true character of Adams is seen in context with his relationship with his wife Abigail (played marvelously by Laura Linney) and their interactions with their children- notably John Quincy Adams who later becomes president himself. The supporting cast is equally as impressive, especially Stephen Dillane’s performance playing Thomas Jefferson, Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of the off-beat Ben Franklin, and David Morse’s uncanny depiction of George Washington.
The filmmakers manage to take the audience in to witness the fragile birth of our country in a way no other work has yet to accomplish. The series, produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book written by David McCullough and features an excellent documentary on the author. The historical accuracy of the series makes it a true learning experience adjusting some of the misconceptions that are common about the period, but beyond that, the series is a moving work of art. One need not be interested in American history to enjoy the characters and drama of the story. I’m sure this series will have a long life in American history classes but this amazing story of love, ambition, ego, and ultimately loss is one anyone can enjoy.