Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Recommended Posts

I recently visited Philadelphia and decided (in a patriotic gesture) to rent John Adams, the HBO series. It took me almost a month to slog through it and I was almost on the verge of quitting it until it got better. Has anyone else seen it? I could not find a thread here.

Neryssa

Link to post

Neryssa, hello. There's no pre-existing thread but thanks for asking (and checking). I tuned into it occasionally but although I like Paul Giamatti well enough in certain roles, not many, he's not the actor to carry a miniseries. Physically he looks enough like Adams but that's not the point. I liked Stephen Dillane as Jefferson and got a kick out of Tom Wilkinson, who's on a roll these days, as Franklin. Laura Linney is always welcome. I didn't watch enough of it to have a well informed opinion of the series as a whole, though.

Link to post

The 18th century is my period. But I have to say that John Adams I found boring. The facts were all there, the acting was lively enough, but the direction was monotonous, and the screenplay pedantic. After the second show, I gave up on it.

Link to post
Neryssa, hello. There's no pre-existing thread but thanks for asking (and checking). I tuned into it occasionally but although I like Paul Giamatti well enough in certain roles, not many, he's not the actor to carry a miniseries. Physically he looks enough like Adams but that's not the point. I liked Stephen Dillane as Jefferson and got a kick out of Tom Wilkinson, who's on a roll these days, as Franklin. Laura Linney is always welcome. I didn't watch enough of it to have a well informed opinion of the series as a whole, though.

Hi dirac, Thank you for responding and indulging me.

I agree with you about Giamatti, he was not quite right for the role although he got better as the series progressed. I must confess that Stephen Dillane gave me heart palpitations. I found him so compelling and enigmatic as Jefferson... Unlike others, I thought David Morse was hardly adequate as Washington. I think the New York Times critic also thought Giamatti was miscast and wrote that Dillane stole every scene that he was in... Laura Linney had an engaging delicacy about her. The series did improve towards the end especially when the jerky camera movements ceased - did you notice the cameras were all over the place? I was becoming nauseous and irritable by the 3rd episode. But there were interesting episodes. Especially poignant were the scenes of renewed correspondence between the aging Adams and Jefferson who died on the same day within hours of each other... Did you not see that episode? Giamatti really did improve but he was never as authoritative (or hilarious) as William Daniels in 1776. This series was almost too grim and authentic.

Link to post

That would be a good defining statement for criticism of the series. -"grim and authentic"- Things set in the 18th century tend to be written and directed with a solemnity that approaches liturgy. I felt as though I were watching a life in real time. And most life is pretty boring.

Link to post

Maybe if HBO shows it again I’ll tune in for some of the later episodes and try again, Neryssa. Like Mel, I’d given up on it well before that time. I completely missed David Morse as Washington and I admit I can’t imagine him in the role. (Morse has a good recurring role in Mad Men, BTW.)

I have fond if vague memories of George Grizzard in the old Adams Chronicles series although I haven’t seen it for many moons. He had the right combination of strength and prickliness.

The series did improve towards the end especially when the jerky camera movements ceased - did you notice the cameras were all over the place? I was becoming nauseous and irritable by the 3rd episode.

Probably they were trying to avoid the stodginess that is often associated with historical costume epics of this type, but they went too far.

I must confess that Stephen Dillane gave me heart palpitations.

No arguments there. Here's hoping he gets his own sequel.

But there were interesting episodes. Especially poignant were the scenes of renewed correspondence between the aging Adams and Jefferson who died on the same day within hours of each other...

And on the Fourth of July, no less. One of those details a novelist wouldn't dare make up.

Link to post

Morse as Washington was good. He didn't say much, but then Washington didn't. He was sort of an aerobic listener, and he had an amazing memory for conversations he had had perhaps years before, and the ability, like Napoleon, to put names with faces, likewise remembered over years. Big George is my MAIN MAN, after all.

Link to post
Maybe if HBO shows it again I’ll tune in for some of the later episodes and try again, Neryssa. Like Mel, I’d given up on it well before that time. I completely missed David Morse as Washington and I admit I can’t imagine him in the role. (Morse has a good recurring role in Mad Men, BTW.)

I have fond if vague memories of George Grizzard in the old Adams Chronicles series although I haven’t seen it for many moons. He had the right combination of strength and prickliness.

The series did improve towards the end especially when the jerky camera movements ceased - did you notice the cameras were all over the place? I was becoming nauseous and irritable by the 3rd episode.

Probably they were trying to avoid the stodginess that is often associated with historical costume epics of this type, but they went too far.

I must confess that Stephen Dillane gave me heart palpitations.

No arguments there. Here's hoping he gets his own sequel.

Yes! My thoughts exactly and I have seen the same thoughts expressed in other reviews of John Adams. If there ever was a series where overstatement (Giamatti) and understatement (Dillane) proved a point about acting, this was it. Dillane has always been magnificantly expressive with his eyes. But after reading David McCullough's description of Jefferson in the book "John Adams," I am imagining that Jefferson was equally charismatic. I don't remember the series with George Grizzard; I might rent it one day. Thanks for the suggestion.

Link to post
Morse as Washington was good. He didn't say much, but then Washington didn't. He was sort of an aerobic listener, and he had an amazing memory for conversations he had had perhaps years before, and the ability, like Napoleon, to put names with faces, likewise remembered over years. Big George is my MAIN MAN, after all.

I usually like Morse very much but I did not think he pulled off the Washington role. He was nominated for an Emmy as was Dillane - for Best Supporting Actor in a whatever...so his performance obviously appealed to many people. I agree with you about the series being slow (initially) and "haloed." But again, the series also showed the difficulties and reality of life in America during that time. I suggest viewing the episodes beginning with Adams traveling to France.

Link to post
Morse as Washington was good. He didn't say much, but then Washington didn't. He was sort of an aerobic listener, and he had an amazing memory for conversations he had had perhaps years before, and the ability, like Napoleon, to put names with faces, likewise remembered over years. Big George is my MAIN MAN, after all.

Spoiler alert: as if I could spoil this series. The one glint of humor in the earlier episodes with Morse as Washington occurred after he was elected and sworn into office. Was it true that he whispered his oath? I thought that scene was amusing. I am afraid that Jefferson has always been my man. He was such a contradiction. But I didn't know that about GW's memory.

Link to post

Chancellor Livingston, who administered the oath to GW, said that he could barely hear the President "repeat after me." Washington hated to talk in public, and his false teeth (he only had two of his own left in his head by 1789) didn't make it any easier. Even though we have the text of his first Inaugural Address, we don't know what he actually delivered. He made the Address to a joint session of the Congress, and about a third of the way through, the compound/complexities of the Hamilton/Madison writing finally got to him. He went off-script and just ad-libbed what he actually thought. A Congressman praised the speech for its "candor". His second Inaugural Address was even better. It was 138 words (the shortest on record, not even covering one side of a sheet of paper), delivered to a cabinet meeting, and was perfect for anybody's second inaugural. What he said was essentially, "I've got the job again. Let's go back to work."

I like Jefferson, too! I suppose I like George for the same reasons that Jefferson did. "He always had the most correct information."

Link to post

Jefferson's delivery of his first inaugural address wasn't too impressive either - apparently hardly anyone heard him, with the possible exceptions of veep Burr and John Marshall, who were right next to him.

When I read Washington's will I was very impressed with the care he took about the disposition of his slaves. He was obviously very concerned about them, and he didn't seem to trust his family too much on the matter.

Link to post

I skipped the tv series and don't really know why. Perhaps, now that I'm older, I prefer my history in print.

For those who want to pursue the personal and human side of John, the wonderful Massachusetts Historical Society (home of The Adams Papers) has an edition of the letters of John and Abigail (My Dearest Friend) which are touching and very real. Publisher is Harvard University Press.

You might also like to look at the correspondence exchanged between Adams and Jefferson late in their lives. Their emnity had been great and deeply personalized. They did not communicate for over a decade after Jefferson beat Adams for the presidency. However, once they were old and both in retirement, they reconnected. Each was conscious of being participants (and survivors) of events of huge importance to Americans and peoples all over the world. The letters are elegant, philosophical, often humorous and occasionally acerbic. Quite worth dipping into. (A complete Adams-Jefferson correspondence, including Abigail, is published by the University of North Carolina.)

Link to post
I skipped the tv series and don't really know why. Perhaps, now that I'm older, I prefer my history in print.

For those who want to pursue the personal and human side of John, the wonderful Massachusetts Historical Society (home of The Adams Papers) has an edition of the letters of John and Abigail (My Dearest Friend) which are touching and very real. Publisher is Harvard University Press.

You might also like to look at the correspondence exchanged between Adams and Jefferson late in their lives. Their emnity had been great and deeply personalized. They did not communicate for over a decade after Jefferson beat Adams for the presidency. However, once they were old and both in retirement, they reconnected. Each was conscious of being participants (and survivors) of events of huge importance to Americans and peoples all over the world. The letters are elegant, philosophical, often humorous and occasionally acerbic. Quite worth dipping into. (A complete Adams-Jefferson correspondence, including Abigail, is published by the University of North Carolina.)

Thank you for the information, bart. Some of the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams was incorporated into the series which was not difficult to do since the couple was often separated during the first decade-plus of their marriage. I understand your affinity for print as I am a bookaholic and I prefer my history untouched by Hollywood. But I first heard excerpts of the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson on one of the American Experience Presidential series documentaries on either Adams or Jefferson. It was narrated by David McCullough who did such a fine job on the Truman documentary as well. True, McCullough has become a popular, homespun historian and I am usually suspicious of such writers, but his reading of the Adams-Jefferson correspondence was deeply moving. The John Adams series did not quite live up to my expectations when they portrayed Adams and Jefferson corresponding towards the end of their lives. It is depicted in the last episode of the series, part 7, I think...

What the series has done is revived interest in early American history and there is a good scene in one of the last episodes where an elderly Adams is viewing (with his son, now President John Quincy Adams) the famous painting of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence. Adams hated it and the series portrayed it well; he despised the misrepresentation of events and complained bitterly to the painter that no one could ever write the real history of the American revolution. I think the series is worth a second look and viewing. As I wrote earlier, it was difficult at first, quite a test of endurance (not as difficult as visiting Philly during a heatwave), but it has some very worthwhile scenes.

Link to post
I skipped the tv series and don't really know why. Perhaps, now that I'm older, I prefer my history in print.

Why does it have to be a choice? Plenty of time for both - the series didn't last that long.

Adams hated it and the series portrayed it well; he despised the misrepresentation of events and complained bitterly to the painter that no one could ever write the real history of the American revolution.

It would be fun to see that scene dramatized. I will have to check out the last half of the series.

Link to post

Neryssa, I agree with you completely about the way that these dramatizations can lead the audience into further exploration. Public tv and cable networks like HBO continue to serve the public remarkably well in the area of U.S. history.

Dirac, my reference to not watching was not meant to be a criticism of this or other similar film projects. Far from it. I was merely expressing a personal -- and no doubt eccentric -- preference as to this particular story. There is, as you say, time to do both. I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought otherwise. :o

I have to admit that reading the interesting posts on this thread has made me look forward to catching the series when it's rerun. :D

P.S. I should add, in the interest of full disclosure, that I worked as a junior editor at the Massachusetts Historical Society for a year when I was taking a leave from grad school. Although I wasn't involved with the Adams Papers, I had the chance to observe closely how they were being edited as well as the early stages of publication. I also had the privilege of reading some of these letters in manuscript. To hold an Adams letter, or a Jefferson or Washington letter, in your hand is an awe-inspiring experience. Forty years later, I can still visualize their handwriting, feel the touch of the pale butter-cream paper, and remember what it felt to read the words as they had actually written them. Maybe it was feeling physically so near to them, and to the time in which they lived, that makes it difficult for me now to watch contemporary actors portraying them on the screen.

Link to post
Neryssa, I agree with you completely about the way that these dramatizations can lead the audience into further exploration. Public tv and cable networks like HBO continue to serve the public remarkably well in the area of U.S. history.

Dirac, my reference to not watching was not meant to be a criticism of this or other similar film projects. Far from it. I was merely expressing a personal -- and no doubt eccentric -- preference as to this particular story. There is, as you say, time to do both. I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought otherwise. :FIREdevil:

I have to admit that reading the interesting posts on this thread has made me look forward to catching the series when it's rerun. :cool:

P.S. I should add, in the interest of full disclosure, that I worked as a junior editor at the Massachusetts Historical Society for a year when I was taking a leave from grad school. Although I wasn't involved with the Adams Papers, I had the chance to observe closely how they were being edited as well as the early stages of publication. I also had the privilege of reading some of these letters in manuscript. To hold an Adams letter, or a Jefferson or Washington letter, in your hand is an awe-inspiring experience. Forty years later, I can still visualize their handwriting, feel the touch of the pale butter-cream paper, and remember what it felt to read the words as they had actually written them. Maybe it was feeling physically so near to them, and to the time in which they lived, that makes it difficult for me now to watch contemporary actors portraying them on the screen.

Thank you for this post, bart. That must have been quite an experience for you. I am an editor and please don't misunderstand me, I llke my computer but I miss the tactile experience of handling manuscripts and photographs. Now we do everything online...which we should in our case but I miss what you describe - the feel of certain types of paper - even the smell of it. Most of us are missing too much of the "tactile" in our lives - which is another topic but it was apparent in the John Adams series how much our domestic and work lives have changed. I was not aware that John Adams was such a hard working farmer and did not own slaves. We always see him in the mud, planting crops, walking through them, admiring a tiny flower... And writing letters on that wonderful paper with quilt pens. There's a great scene where Abigail and John Adams move into the still unfinished, drab and muddy White House, which is still being built by slaves. I hope you watch the series when it returns to HBO.

dirac - I read that Thomas Jefferson did not like giving speeches and press conferences perhaps because he had a lisp - not apparent in the series, of course!

Link to post
I was not aware that John Adams was such a hard working farmer and did not own slaves.

Well, Abigail was really the hard working farmer. :FIREdevil:

Fine point that I neglected to make, dirac. I was thinking about Adams the farmer vs. Jefferson, the great philosopher and slave owner whose first memory was of being carried on a pillow by a slave. Jefferson, man of the people who avoided people and conflict as much as possible. And as much as he loved Monticello, it and his entire household was run by his slaves (no revelation here). Jefferson seemed to have conservative views about women, too. I didn't know that.

Yes, Abigail was one of the heroes of the Revolution, too.

Link to post

I wish I had been a fly on the bulkhead when Abby and the kids came over to Europe on a potash merchant. They were also carrying bunkers full of linseed oil. This made them a floating edition of a modern ANFO bomb! Mrs. Adams quickly had the crew holystoning the 'tween decks, so that the oil wouldn't get into the potash! She also taught the captain a thing or two about navigational mathematics, and the cook how to cook! By the time they got to Europe, she was running a tight little ship!

Link to post
I guess Jefferson couldn't help where he was born, and into what times. He didn't do as well as he might have in some ways, even by slaveholder standards, but nobody's perfect.
It's tricky trying to evaluate people's behavior in the past based on contemporary standards -- or on the hindsight of knowing which side was "right."

There's something rather damning about Jefferson and slavery, however. The relevant comparison is not Adams and Jefferson. It's Washington and Jefferson -- both major plantation owners and slave owners from the same state. In his will, Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Although I'm fascinated by Jefferson, that's one thing I've never been able to forget ... or forgive.

Link to post

Well, Jefferson couldn't afford to free his slaves. That's what I meant when I said that even as slaveholders go he was not as responsible as he might have been. He spent his dough noodling endlessly with Monticello and after he died they had to be sold off to pay his debts. That wasn't meeting his responsibility to the slaves or his family. On the other hand, Washington's concern on this matter was exceptional - not only did he make arrangements to free his slaves but thought also about their future welfare as freemen -- and I wouldn't necessarily expect Jefferson to meet that standard.

Had finances permitted Jefferson might very well have chosen to free them. But he wasn't the only Founding Father who wasn't too good at keeping his personal finances in order. As it was, it would have been irresponsible for him to manumit them, and possibly not legal?? - I believe he'd actually had to mortgage some of them.

(Slaveholders who did decide to free their slaves posthumously could leave their families in a pickle if they didn't do it thoughtfully. George Washington Custis ordered the slaves of Arlington freed within a few years of his death, but his plantations and finances were in terrible shape, leaving his son in law, Robert E. Lee, with a big mess on his hands.)

Mrs. Adams quickly had the crew holystoning the 'tween decks, so that the oil wouldn't get into the potash! She also taught the captain a thing or two about navigational mathematics, and the cook how to cook! By the time they got to Europe, she was running a tight little ship!

Maybe she would have made a better President than her hubby. Abigail would have known how to deal with Hamilton and Jefferson. :)

Link to post
Had finances permitted Jefferson might very well have chosen to free them. But he wasn't the only Founding Father who wasn't too good at keeping his personal finances in order. As it was, it would have been irresponsible for him to manumit them, and possibly not legal??
Jefferson has always had his defenders in this matter.

My memory grows dim on the details, but all southern states had restrictions on manumission. These laws became increasingly harsh and punitive up to the Civil War, making it either illegal or virtually impossible to free a slave. But most of that was after Jefferson's death.

At the time of Jefferson's death, I believe, Virginia required manumitted slaves to leave the state, though even this was not enforced consistently. I don't think that owners accrued costs other than the loss of their investment.

Questions like this make think about and chose among competing value systems. On one side of the scale we find the demands of business, property rights, obligations to family, social pressure from neighbors, commonly held beliefs about race, etc.

On the other side we find ... what? Well, Jefferson himself was not averse to talking about "liberty," "justice," and even "equality" and receiving much acclaim for doing so.

Perhaps it's his willingness, in the end, to sweep his own own higher value system under the carpet that makes Jefferson's decision seem, in my opinion, shabby.

Link to post
Mrs. Adams quickly had the crew holystoning the 'tween decks, so that the oil wouldn't get into the potash! She also taught the captain a thing or two about navigational mathematics, and the cook how to cook! By the time they got to Europe, she was running a tight little ship!

Maybe she would have made a better President than her hubby. Abigail would have known how to deal with Hamilton and Jefferson. :)

She was amazing! While John was American Minister to the Court of St. James, She went to an audience with King George III, and brought two of her daughters. The King was charmed to find that she had brought her children, "Oh, you have your daughters here, what, what? Love children, have fifteen of 'em myself, eh?" The Queen was less effusive in her greetings, but her eldest daughters and the Adams girls became a tight foursome. You didn't see one without the other three. If you wanted royalty to dress up your party, just invite one or the other of the Adams girls. The other three would come with her!

Even Martha Washington sought out Abby's advice. Mrs. Washington's taste ran to the dowdy, and she knew it. Abigail always knew what the tasteful things were in fashion, and which new trends were going to last. She also could smell a bargain a county off! Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Washington were the great shoppers-together of the 1790s!

Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...