If politicians think they have a hard life in 2008, they need to watch HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries, debuting March 16, to feel ashamed.
A certain governor’s infidelity comes to mind when watching this sweeping 18th-century-centered epic, which sheds light on the forgotten accomplishments — and fidelity! — of Founding Father John Adams (Paul Giamatti), his public service and the personal toll his self-sacrifice exacted on his marriage to Abigail (Laura Linney) and his four children.
Adams, who ultimately became the second president, spent years separated from his family while serving his country. Initially, he leaves them at their Massachusetts farm surrounded by skirmishing British troops and the Sons of Liberty and makes the arduous journey to Philadelphia to represent the state at the Continental Congress.But in 1778, he sets sail on an incredibly dangerous, long voyage to Europe to join Benjamin Franklin in encouraging France to join with the Americans against the British.
Adams remains in Europe as an ambassador for six years and is not joined by Abigail until 1784. They don’t return home for several more years, when they finally reunite with their children.
Brooklyn Heights resident Giamatti told GO Brooklyn that he could identify with Adams’s long absences away from his family when he left the borough to shoot scenes for the series in Europe.
“I don’t have to go away for years at a time — which is sort of incomprehensible — but this is what these people had to do,” said Giamatti. “One of my favorite scenes to do in the movie [is] a very small scene. But we really wanted to convey that sense of the enormity of the passage of time … and how much people could miss him. I come off the boat with Abigail after coming back from England, and I barely recognize my own children.
“[In my own life], I’m only going away for a few months at a time, but, of course, it is very difficult. [Adams] was making far more significant sacrifices in his life than I am. I’m going off, you know, to make a silly action movie or something, but I’m doing it to support my family.”
Some of the miniseries’ most heart-wrenching scenes imagine John and Abigail’s agonizing good-byes and tentative reunions.
“Through the eyes of these historical figures, the audience can experience the revolutionary world with fresh insight and gain a new understanding of not only John and Abigail Adams, but of the entire Founding generation,” said screenwriter Kirk Ellis, who wrote the script based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
After watching the series, McCullough said, “I think [viewers] will realize [that] life in the 18th century is a great deal more difficult than our own and a great deal more difficult than most people have any idea.
“[In this film,] you hear of John and Abigail Adams and the founding of the country seen as it was, with the hardships of life, the scars that a hard life left on people. People with dirt under their fingernails and bad teeth, people coping with the awful scourge of smallpox,” continued McCullough, who revealed that he is a former Brooklyn Heights resident. (He moved to this historic neighborhood with his wife “right after we were married,” he said.)
“We loved it, and it was because of that time there that gave rise to my book, ‘The Great Bridge,’ about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. And we like to go back and … walk around the old neighborhood very often and wonder why in the world we ever left.”
Indeed, absence does make the heart grow fonder, and HBO’s miniseries is leaving us hungering for the next installment of this epic history lesson turned love story.
The seven-part “John Adams” miniseries kicks off at 8 pm on March 16 on HBO. Subsequent episodes will be shown on Sundays through April 20 at 9 pm. For more information, visit www.hbo.com.