So has everyone been watching John Adams on HBO? As of yet, I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but I have to say that I’m completely impressed! The first episode covered John Adam’s representation of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre case. It also told the story of his transformation from a marginal Whig to one of the Massachusetts representatives sent to the first Continental Congress. I thought the first episode was good–John Hancock, Sam Adams, and an honest-to-goodness tar and feathering of a Crown-appointed customs official trying to take that loathsome East India tea off Hancock’s ship!
But the second episode actually brought tears to my eyes. It covers the first and second Continental Congresses and the change in political temperature in the Colonies which lead, ultimately, to the adoption of a “Declaration of Independency.” This is my all time favorite moment in American history. All my favorite players are there–John Adams, John Hancock (whose well-timed eye rolls at John Adam’s red-faced speeches are priceless!), Sam Adams (whose role in the American Revolution is far too often over looked), George Washington, Ben Franklin (who is so wonderfully portrayed: ”My opinion is that I have no opinion at all!”) and, of course, my favorite gentleman from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson)–and none of these great men are enemies yet. Each founder has something which they bring to the table and they’re all working together, their strengths coming out and covering over and balancing out each other’s weaknesses. They’re all on the same page… no Federalists or Republicans yet. Just Americans!
They did a fantastic job portraying John Dickinson. John Dickinson is the infamous representative from Pennsylvania who refused to vote for Independence. However, he wasn’t represented as the party pooper, or the guy who rained on the other delegate’s parade. He was the man who loved his country and feared what a hasty and poor timed decision might do to ruin it. The actor did a fantastic job and the writers did a fantastic job. At one point Ben Franklin and John Adams are trying to persuade Dickinson when he says, exasperated, “I cannot vote against my conscience!” to which Adams responds gravely, “No man should ever vote against his conscience.” It’s the turning point in which Dickinson says, “Mr. Adams, I thank you for that” and then proceeds to be persuaded not in voting for the measure but instead to simply find himself “indisposed” during the voting. We should all take a lesson from that scene… in how to treat our political enemies.
Another favorite moment was the writing of the document itself. The five man committee selected to create the draft of the Declaration (Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Livingston and Sherman) was reduced on-screen to only Adams, Franklin and Jefferson. Which I understand in film-making terms, but the latter members’ roles are all too often forgotten. Alas, that aside, the scene was fantastic. Thomas Jefferson had agonized over every word of the Declaration of Independence when he wrote it and he squirms in his seat as the other delegates scrutinize and deconstruct it. Ben Franklin says of Jefferson’s opening, “It smacks of the pulpit!” to which the Deist Jefferson looks up surprised and says, “It does?” After he endures their critiques, he off-handedly, and understatedly says in a quiet voice, “Well, that’s what I believe, anyway.” Understatement of the Century! But a fantastic rendition of Thomas Jefferson’s typical reserve and self-containment of his passions.
One of the things that I love about all the actors is that they have mastered the tiny nuances of their characters. Jefferson slouches, squirms, and sits tangled up in his chair. Franklin has problems rising to his feet. Adams, when upset, talks sideways with a twitch. I love it! Seeing them all fantastically portrayed is a dream come true for Founding-Father Fan girl like myself.
The ultimate moment in the episode was after everything was said and done, President Hancock says, ”The Resolution is Passed.” But the scene doesn’t end. The camera pans around the room at all the delegates and the moment is pregnant with a “What the crap did we just do?!” It helps the gravity of what they had actually accomplished–both good and bad, and the absolute enormity of it. I think it helps the viewer really grasp the momentousness of the Fourth (or, actually Second) of July. Its the beauty of what cinema can do that books cannot. I loved it.
I loved it. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.
Don’t worry, I won’t burden you with overly long blog posts about every episode, but this one was a work of art, and pertinent to The Dreamer. I hope you watch them all! And I just found out that another of David McCullough’s books, 1776, is in production by HBO. I have no words for this news yet…!