Sons of Liberty Review Part 1 “A Dangerous Game”

Sons of Liberty History Channel 12

“Why does there have to be sides?”
“Because there are.”

The Revolutionary War is having a comeback on tv as of late. Sleepy Hollow started the resurgence in 2013 followed by Turn: Washington’s Spies last year. And now the History Channel is in on the action with Sons of Liberty. To begin, this is my first taste of scripted programming on History. I have not seen Vikings nor Hatfield and McCoys, so I can’t compare quality. I still have yet to see HBO’s acclaimed miniseries John Adams too. That being said, my barometer for Sons of Liberty will be against that of Turn (because Sleepy Hollow belongs in its whole own crazy category) and my own knowledge of the era. Based on Part 1 “A Dangerous Game,” Sons of Liberty still has an amount to achieve. While handsomely shot, the dialogue is rudimentary coupled with a lead who is just not compelling.

The idea of a Revolutionary War series following Sam Adams is an interesting one. It opens a different playing ground since HBO already tackled John Adams and AMC is currently invested in the Culper Ring. Unfortunately, Ben Barnes is not the person to portray the famous Founding Father. He has the leading man good lucks but is very vanilla regarding everything else. Add to the fact he’s much too young to be playing Adams who was 10-15 years older than many of his contemporaries. Case in point, Sam Adams was 15 years older than John Hancock, who became a protégé of his. Now television and film consistently fudge on the ages of real life people in their depictions. In many cases, it works. Here, it doesn’t. I don’t buy Barnes as this jaded rebel who can command the attention of all these other men. Perhaps the next 4 hours will change my mind, but as of now, I’m not convinced. And it doesn’t help that every other character on the screen is more interesting than him, chief amongst them John Hancock so far. It took me a good 30 minutes to adjust to Rafe Spall’s very flamboyant almost Tom Hulce Amadeus-like performance, but once I did he became my favorite aspect. The person very much matches the iconic signature we all know. Henry Thomas and Ryan Eggold were passable as John Adams and Joseph Warren respectively yet not particularly memorable. I was impressed with Sean Gilder as Governor Hutchinson and Shane Taylor as Captain Preston. The stereotypical British anatagonist can be difficult to give some weight to and both made the men more than just cyphers. Do I know their backstories? No. Were they still engaging to watch? Yes.

Part 1 ended with the Boston Massacre. My hope is that Part 2 will pick up the pace considerably. It looks as if Dean Norris’ Benjamin Franklin and Marton Csokas’ General Thomas Gage will play a larger part along with introducing Jason O’Mara’s George Washington, which will help immensely. All three of them should be able to rise above the dialogue if necessary. We’ll also be more in the thick of things in terms of plot. Many viewers had issues with the slow burn of Turn. It never bothered me though because the characters and actors were so compelling. For Sons of Liberty to rise it needs to keep that great physical aesthetic while building the characters so many of us know by name and maybe little else.

More Thoughts As I Stroll Through Beacon Hill

– I didn’t mention Michael Raymond James above as Paul Revere, but he would have been a more logical choice as Sam Adams. His age matches better, and he could play that fine line of rebel/instigator. Many people believed Adams used propaganda to incite mob riots- that particular aspect would be right in James’ wheelhouse.

– Sam Adams is the focus of the series, yet I was disappointed to see Crispus Attucks not even get a mention and barely have his face shown during the Boston Massacre. In a time where Selma, David Oyelowo, and Ava DuVernay are snubbed for Oscars, it’s sad to see the first casualty of the American Revolution, who happened to be a minority, and later, so well renowned by abolitionists, be just a blip on the screen. Turn has done much better with spreading the wealth amongst its characters regarding gender, race, and socio-economic status.

– Like Turn, Sons of Liberty is taking liberty with the lead’s marital life. Sam Adams did lose his first wife, Elizabeth Checkley in 1757, but remarried in 1764 to Elizabeth Wells. With Part 1 ending in 1770, I don’t remember any mention of his remarriage.

– My view of Benjamin Franklin is very skewed due to Walter Cronkite’s voice portrayal of him on PBS’s excellent Liberty’s Kids. Franklin was a horndog, and I just don’t like to think of Cronkite that way *shudders*

– The number 1 thing the miniseries as done so far is make me want to revisit Boston. I went to school there for 2 years, and it’s a fantastic city. And a statue of Mr. Sam Adams himself greets you upon entering Faneuil Hall.