John Adams is the newest major miniseries from HBO. HBO has a tradition of putting out fantastic and award-winning minis, such as Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon. John Adams stars Paul Giamatti in the title role, with Laura Linney as his wife Abigail. It’s an examination of the life of one of the most influential men in the formation of the United States of America.
Episode 1 starts with the Boston Massacre. The captain in charge of the detail responsible for the Massacre is to be put on trial, and it is certain he will be found guilty of murder and hanged. He pleas for the best lawyer there is – John Adams. Adams thinks the men are probably guilty, like most, but he believes that the captain and his men deserve a fair trial and legal representation.
Adams becomes convinced the men were innocent and acting in self-defense, and he establishes a defense, using his personal contacts and his strict belief in justice to convince witnesses to tell the truth. He shows physical facts such as bullet marks on clothing and wounds on the accused to support his version of events. The men are found innocent.
John Adams is oft shown at odds with his cousin, Samuel Adams (yes, the beer guy). Samuel is a leader of the Sons of Liberty movement for independence from England; John believes in the rule of law, though both agree that the level and type of taxation is completely unfair. Samuel would prefer a rash action; but John shows that sort of dedication to human rights that will later define him, and the United States: that it is better to let a thousand wicked souls go free than condemn one who is innocent.
Later, Adams is offered posts, both in the government of Massachusetts and as an extension of the Admiralty, but he refuses both. He witnesses a man ordering a fellow named John Hancock to unload his illegal goods; Hancock incites the crowd to tar and feather the man. Adams is moved to tears, as he believes those actions to be worse than the crime of repressive taxation, and extols Samuel as such.
It turns out that Samuel Adams has listened to his brother, and as a result, has moved to nominate his cousin for the Continental Congress; Adams wins appointment, along with Hancock and others. He pledges, emotionally, to the cause of liberty for all, and departs with Samuel for the First Continental Congress.
I am very thoroughly impressed by this first episode. Giamatti is utterly fantastic as John Adams, a man who may one day rank in the top level of important people to walk this earth. I believe firmly in Adams’s place, moreso than George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or many of his contemporaries, because he established so many of the ideas on which the US was built.
The first episode stuck quite closely to history; Adams was involved in the Boston Massacre trial (though two of the men were found guilty of manslaughter); Adams was offered many posts in government. Was Hancock a smuggler? I don’t know, but the scene felt right – it felt that Adams would have reacted like that to this sort of thing.
Overall…it established, fully, that John Adams is a man who loved and desires liberty, freedom, and equality for all – that he would set such things above life itself. That…is true bravery and dedication.
I like the man already.