I for one am all for scrutinizing historical films. I believe that it forces the viewer to stretch his/her understanding and knowledge of the time period. Keeping this in mind, here are a few additional observations of the John Adams miniseries:
- Colonial American society LOVED to drink. John Hancock, for example, kept at least a gallon of rum punch at his bedside. George Washington was the largest distiller of rum in the colonies prior to the outbreak of war. Alcohol was a large part of the every day colonial experience. People drank alcohol back then in the same way that bottled water is consumed today. There is little to no depiction of this in the film.
- The film's portrayal of political thought and ideology are limited to say the least. For example, there is absolutely no reference to Thomas Paine or to the massive impact of his book Common Sense. In the Continental Congress, John Adams is seen as an idealist instead of the pragmatic realist that he actually was. Historian Jeff Pasley said it best in his review of this film when he wrote the following:
Like the David McCullough source material, this episode was atrocious when dealing with politics or political thought. Tom Paine and Common Sense are not even mentioned, nor is there any sense of the pressure the delegates were feeling from the political radicalism that was boiling over in the streets of Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, a source of great consternation to the real Adams. (Ordinary Americans appear only in occasional scenes of silent soldiers and disease victims, and in a nice polite crowd that hears the Declaration read at the end.) Here the speech Adams gives in reply to John Dickinson during the final independence debate comes out of nowhere and sounds more like Paine than Adams, proposing a national republic and extolling revolution in a way that would have had the most of the delegates fleeing back home or to the British if anyone one had actually said that kind of stuff on the floor of the Continental Congress. The real speech, while not recorded, seems to have been much more practical and nothing the delegates had not heard many times before.
- The lack of any background information into the causes of the Britain/Boston feud are completely ignored in this film. As I have stated before, I realize that every film has limitations to it, and certain events must be omitted for obvious reasons. With that said, however, I believe that it is essential for the audience to have a basic understanding of events like the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, the Tea Act, the creation of the Sons of Liberty, etc.
Though this film (like any other) is replete with historical inaccuracies, I still maintain my overall opinion that this film is deserving of praise. HBO should feel proud for having gone to such lengths to recreate this all-important era in our nation's history.