DVD of the Week: John Adams

John Adams:  The most overlooked giant of our Founding Fathers is the subject of this brilliant mini-series.  Adams was a major player in forming the political consensus to seek independence from England, an important (if unevenly successful) diplomat during the war, a key political ally of George Washington’s and our nation’s first Vice-President and second President.  Unique among the Founding Fathers, his day to day activities were frankly chronicled in hundreds of letters to and from his wife of fifty-four years, Abigail.  These surviving letters comprise one of the most essential first-hand accounts of the founding of America, and, of course, also reveal much about the talented but prickly Adams and the Adams’ relationship.

To seal the quality of this miniseries, the Adams are played by the generally brilliant Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.  Giamatti captures the short-tempered, brilliant political strategist who understands the limits of his own personal popularity.  Linney is perfect as the perceptive Abigail, who often helps John by pointing out that he needs to get out of his own way.

The series also, seemingly alone amid contemporary filmmaking, captures the era.  It was a time when travel and communication took weeks on horseback or months by sailing ship and when smallpox inoculation was by blade instead of by needle.  Day-to-day life is portrayed without romanticism or iconography.  In particular, no one who watches the tar-and-feathering scene will again view this practice as quaintly comical.

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