Wednesday, February 20, 2013

John Adams

Director:  Tom Hooper
                (based on the book by David McCullough)

Rating:  **  (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience:  High School juniors and seniors

This 7-episode HBO series released in 2009 provides a quality look at events that formed our nation--not just war, but the rule of law, the development of our Constitution, and the delicate balance between freedom responsibility.

History buffs and AP students will benefit most from this careful study of John Adams, a frequently overlooked Founding Father.  He suffered bouts of temper and pride, but never wavered in his dedication to the law, public service, and the need for a free people to be guided by wise government.

Production qualities are high, with outstanding sets and period costumes, and compelling performances from Laura Linney and Paul Giammati (Abigail and John Adams), as well as the entire supporting cast.  Watching this film, one gains a true appreciation of the hardship of 18th century life and the sacrifices made by the Revolutionary generation.  Based on the histories I've read (McCullough, Ellis), I believe it to be as historically accurate a character study of Adams, Jefferson, Washington and Franklin (among others) as we can hope for.

Viewers looking for Hollywood entertainment would be disappointed in the number of unattractive headshots (think, old men in wigs.  No one asked Tom Hanks to act in this.) and frequent political discourse.  Nonetheless, the political posturing and occasional backstabbing, as well as the Adams' domestic dramas, keep the plot pace more than interesting for an intelligent audience.

For content advisory, here is a list of episodes:

Episode 1-Join or Die
               Brief male frontal nudity and violence as a man is
               tarred and feathered.

Episode 2-Independence
               Realistic inoculation scene.
               Loving, yet tasteful, reunion between John
               and Abigail.

Episode 3-Don't Tread on Me
               Realistic amputation scene.
               Lavish lifestyle of aristocratic France portrayed,
               including Ben Franklin and a French Countess
               playing chess while sitting in a bathtub!

Episode 5-Reunion

Episode 6-Unnecessary War
               Alcoholic lifestyle and death of Adams' son Charles.

Episode 7-Peacefield
               Three deaths, plus brief female nudity during
               realistic breast surgery scene.

Some might remark at my sensitivity, but our modern sex and violence-saturated movies cannot accurately prepare a young viewer for a realistic, dramatic death scene, or even the scalpel and blood present during a re-created surgery!  The entire feel of historical drama is different, as the audience knows they are basically watching real life as it was lived by our hearty ancestors.  People really suffered and died!  Hollywood can't make this stuff up.

Also, I need the reminder that, as mature as my 6th grader seems, she really does not yet need a visual image in her mind of tarring and feathering.  And my 2nd grader shouldn't see Sybil die in childbirth, or Matthew's fatal head injury.

Oh, wait.  Those last two were Downton Abbey.

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