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John Adams (DVD Review)

8 Jun, 2008 By: John Latchem

John Adams

Street 6/10/08
HBO Video
$59.99 three-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Stephen Dillane, Tom Wilkinson, David Morse.

Imagine the pressure on John Adams as he entered the court of King George III as the United States’ new ambassador to England. So soon after the Revolution, one of its architects has arrived to confront his former monarch, who just a few years prior would have seen Adams hanged if given the chance.

The scene is a pivotal moment in this epic miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The throne room drips with awkward tension as we realize the king is under equal pressure. Each man chooses his words carefully so as to not unravel what is clearly a fragile peace.

The miniseries, as directed by Tom Hooper (Elizabeth I), is filled with such indelible re-creations of American history. Over the course of seven episodes, viewers learn how a penchant for justice led the unassuming lawyer from Massachusetts to not only help forge a new nation, but become its second president. The portrait begins with Adams defending the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre in 1770, and ends with Adams’ death July 4, 1826 (just a few hours after Thomas Jefferson).

Much is made of Adam’s friendship and political rivalry with Jefferson (Dillane), who is portrayed as somewhat foppish and idealistic after spending too many years in revolutionary France. Events are portrayed from the perspective of Adams (Giamatti), who is anchored in his temperament by the unwavering support of his wife, Abigail (Linney).

On DVD, the miniseries becomes a valuable educational tool. A trivia track called “Facts Are Stubborn Things” gives viewers more information about on-screen events as they watch the miniseries. With the focus primarily on Adams and Jefferson, many incidents of historical relevance are re-cast for television. For example, the miniseries completely downplays Alexander Hamilton’s role in breaking the election deadlock of 1800, leading to Jefferson’s presidency.

The DVD also is as much a tribute to McCullough as it is Adams, profiling the famed historian in the fun hour-long program David McCullough: Painting With Words. Keen viewers will recognize McCullough’s voice as the narrator of Ken Burns’ The Civil War.

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