It is July 4, Independence Day which also happens to be the national holiday of the United States which therefore commemorates the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. As is the tradition on Critictoo, it is the perfect time to talk again about one of the best mini-series that the American small screen has given us, John Adams.
After Band of Brothers and before The Pacific, HBO had once again partnered with Playtone, the production house of Tom Hanks, to develop John Adams – a biography of the Second President of the United States of America adapted from the book by historian David McCullough who received a Pulitzer Prize in 2002. Released in 2008, it received several awards, including 4 Golden Globe awards and 13 Emmy awards (out of 23 nominations), 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an AFI Award – this which makes it the most awarded American miniseries in history.
If at the end of his life John Adams cared about what history would take away from the tumultuous times in which he played a key role, this miniseries helped show that he was not forgotten. Admittedly, it was not won, as he was not an easy man to appreciate, but his actions did the job for him.
Divided into 7 episodes (lasting between 1:05 and 1:30), John Adams begins in 1770 with a fatal incident in the streets of Boston. Lawyer John Adams – played by Paul Giamatti – was called upon to defend British soldiers accused of killing civilians for no reason. Adams was an impartial man who believed in justice above all else, but it won’t be long before the oppression of the motherland spreads to the point where the most precious of things is threatened: freedom.
Adams is the one who called for independence and he fought for it. His values were the noblest and that didn’t make him popular, because he was just uncompromising. Surprisingly, he knew he was smarter than those around him and that made him an arrogant man – a trait that cost him dearly. Fortunately, he was not alone. His wife, Abigail (Laura Linney), will be his most trusted advisor and she doesn’t hesitate to put her feet back on the ground when necessary. She played a key role in the history of the United States, but her influence cannot be measured.
John Adams thus leads us into the debates that will lead to independence, before taking us to France where Adams finds Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson) to negotiate with the King, before leaving for the Netherlands, then England where he becomes the first American ambassador in history. He will return to the country where he will be elected first vice-president under George Washington (David Morse) – for two terms – before being in turn elected president. The last part will be devoted to his retirement, carrying us on until his death and that of Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the independence of their country.
It’s not an epic tale, for Adams was a politician – despite himself – and most of all he loved to talk. That said, if all of this isn’t action-packed, it’s hard to be bored, even when the pace isn’t brisk. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are at the top of their game and make the Adams couple as captivating as they are touching. Adams’ journeys are as fascinating as his frustrations, and the actor conveys all the passion that lived and defined him. The whole thing is greatly helped by the staging of Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, which sometimes gives the impression of composing paintings more than filming. The music then completes this masterfully mastered composition by injecting grandeur into this slice of history.
John Adams is a complete work of impressive qualities which also proves to be most instructive. It’s a rewarding miniseries in every way, but above all, it’s a great TV moment, among the best, there has been on American screens. A good way to remember what July 4th represents in the United States.
You can watch John Adams streaming on OCS and it is also available on DVD in Z1 and Z2UK import.