Warning: Spoiler Alert
Over the last few years, The History Channel’s delved into original miniseries in the “Historical Fiction,” genre. What that basically means is you get a story based on actual events, sometimes based on actual people, other times the protagonist’s fictional but they interact with historical figures. The only problem with the genre’s figuring out where history ends and fiction takes over. That’s a pretty apt description of what I witnessed Sunday night as the network premiered their latest original event “Sons Of Liberty.”
The story begins in my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts in 1765, eleven years before the signing of the Declaration Of Independence and revolves around Samuel Adams, cousin of future President John Adams. Although I remember Samuel’s name coming up in history classes, nothing about him really stood out, until they used his name for a Boston micro-brewery. (Who coincidentally, are the main sponsor of the six-hour three-night event.)
When deciding to dedicate six-hours of your time to a television show, the first question you need to ask yourself, is whether it’s worth your attention. After watching the first two-hours on Sunday night, I’ve yet to reach a conclusion on that question. It was entertaining and moved briskly, but I’m not sure if the tale told, was just a good story or truly revolving around actual events.
Although, not familiar with Ben Barnes’ work, whom portrays the central character, the series is loaded with familiar faces. Henry Thomas, whom you may remember as Elliot from the movie “E.T.” plays John Adams, while Michael Raymond-James, who portrayed Neal on “Once Upon A Time,” takes the role of silversmith Paul Revere. The part of Doctor Joseph Warren, a good friend and ally of Adams, gets played by Ryan Eggold, who portrayed Tom Keen for the last two seasons on the NBC series “The Blacklist” and I have to admit to feeling uneasy each time he was on camera. Perhaps the most creative casting choice’s Dean Norris completely unrecognizable as Benjamin Franklin, whose first appearance was fully dressed lying in a tub of water, drinking whiskey in the afternoon.
The evening opens with the graphic, telling us the time and place we’ve arrived at, when we hear a voiceover as we watch men beating each other senseless in the pouring rain. Our narrator, turns out to be Sam Adams and these are his words.
History will regard our nation as inevitable, but it wasn’t. In 1765, we were still a group of colonies, living under British oppression. There was no talk of revolution or thoughts about the United States. Things got so bad, gangs took to beating each other in the streets. But everything changed, on August 13, as Doctor Warren came to see me.
Sorry, but this must be mentioned, it’s August 13, in Boston, Massachusetts and it’s poring like late November and everyone on the streets, wear coats! The “Dog-Days Of August” in Beantown and folks wearing coats??
Warren rides his horse through the harsh elements, then steps into a pub, where he’s promptly greeted by Adams, who asks about the cut on his friends face and tells the bartender to get Warren a pint, which the Doctor refuses. He’s there to warn Adams that the red-coats are searching for him possessing a warrant for his arrest, right then the British soldiers, enter the pub. Adams hides, crouching in the rear of the pub as his friends tell the soldiers they just missed him. Adams chooses right then to make his escape and eludes the grasp of the red-coats.
Adams leads the soldiers through a wild chase in the streets of Boston, jumping rooftop to rooftop as well as exploring some underground routes. Just as they’re close to capturing him, they run straight into the two street-gangs, who join forces and start chasing down the red-coats. The British soldiers take refuge behind the gates of the State House, but soon have to evacuate the Governor and his aide.
The gangs tear down the gates, then pour into the house totally trashing it, they also pull a picture of British King George off the wall and treat it badly. Adams’ is just an awestruck observer, overcome by the power and the fury of his fellow colonists. The Governor and other officials blame him for the riot, but it was actually caused by a bunch of stuff hitting the fan at once.
Governor Hutchison, a man with the warmth of a slab of granite, summons John Hancock to his office. Hancock’s a wealthy young man and executor of the company built by his uncle. Hutchinson got paid off for looking the other way in certain matters, with the senior Hancock and the deal’s in place with John as well. The Governor talks about his relationship with the Uncle and hopes to have the same relationship with Hancock.
He then tells Hancock he needs him to solve a problem for him and tells him about Adams, he says the family’s historically been painful for Hutchinson and now Samuel’s become the thorn in his side. He tells Hancock he wants the businessman to rid him of his problem, in a way that won’t lead back to him, then dismisses the colonist.
A stranger comes into the pub and says he’s looking for Adams and the man’s Samuel’s cousin John. He gets taken to his cousin’s hiding spot and proceeds to give Sam a lecture. Adams was hired by the Crown less than a year earlier, to collect taxes from the colonists and he’s eight thousand dollars in arrears. John tells him to surrender to the authorities and leaves.
That evening Hancock and a young women take a carriage ride to the pub and he goes in asking for Adams. Sam’s friend and protector Tim Kelly, gives Hancock the runaround, but Adams presents himself. Hancock starts to introduce himself and Samuel tells him he knows who he is. Hancock asks if they can talk in private and Kelly kicks all his customers out of the pub.
Hancock explains he’s there to see him on Hutchinson’s behalf and Adams asks if he’s the Governor’s messenger. He says he isn’t but the Governor’s his friend. He then offers Samuel a deal, he’ll pay off all the debt, the warrant will get taken care of and he’ll retain his freedom. His only obligation’s to go to court and asks for the colonists to stop their rioting. Although suspicious at first, Adams accepts the deal and when Hancock leaves he tells Tim Kelly he just got out of his jail sentence.
Hancock meets with Hutchinson and the Governor asks him the status of the situation, Hancock replies it’s resolved and Hutchinson’s quite happy. Then Hancock reveals the details and the Governor implodes, saying that’s not the solution he wanted. Hancock’s confused, saying the situations resolved, but Hutchinson dismisses him. He then writes a letter to the English Prime Minister and tells an aide to get the message on the next ship to London.
Three months later, the message gets delivered to the Prime Minister and summons Benjamin Franklin, living in London at the time. A well-lubricated Franklin meets with the Prime Minister and tells him to calm down, the colonists are just blowing off steam and if patience’s applied the situation will dissipate. After he stumbles out, the Prime Minister’s aide asks of the tales of Franklin’s boozing and womanizing were accurate and the official says they are. The aide says he can’t believe Franklin’s the best America has to offer.
A graphic tells us we’re now on the Estate of British General Thomas Gage, whom the Prime Minister attempts to talk into returning to the colonies and setting things in order. Gage asks what the King thinks about it and the Prime Minister says he couldn’t be bothered. Gage says he feels the same, refuses to go and tells the leader of the English Government to send three ships filled with soldiers and start enforcing the rules strictly. The Prime Minister meets with leaders of Parliament telling them he needs more statutes to keep the colonists in line and all agree.
The next graphic informs us we’re not at Boston Harbor in 1766 and we watch the ships unloading scores of red-coats. Joseph Warren’s sent to inspect the troops to ensure they’re healthy and he hears two red-coats discussing that their mission in the colonies is long-term. He tells Adams about what he heard but Samuel displays no concern.
Then the trouble begins, the expanded military presence starts arresting colonists for back taxes, Adams walks by the house of a family knows and they’re taking away the father. Adams tries to intercede, but a soldier pushes him to the ground, he starts to go beat him, when one of the red-coats Warren heard talking, stops the soldier, telling him he’s a harmless drunk. This isn’t the last time we’ll see this soldier and he’ll play a prominent part in the series next two installments. As Adams stands up, the man’s son Christopher asks Samuel what’s going on, but before Samuel can utter a word, his mother tells him to come in the house.
Troubles aren’t just plaguing the poor, John Hancock has one of his ships seized by the British. He goes to see Hutchinson to intercede on his behalf, but Hutchinson refuses to help and denies that the two of them have a deal, then calls Hancock a smuggler. Hancock denies the accusation, then Hutchinson says if he’s a businessman pay his taxes like everyone else. Hancock sits in his study despondent, when we can see by his facial expressions he’s got a plan.
Hancock tells Adams about his problem with Hutchinson, then asks for his help trying to smuggle the rest of his ships’ cargo to Boston. He tells Adams that he’ll give jobs to all the colonists who can’t find work and says with his money and Samuel’s influence they’ll become the perfect team. Adams always looking out for his fellow colonists, agrees to work with Hancock.
The plans for the operation are held in Paul Revere’s workshop. Hancock introduces himself to Revere and thanks him for providing them a place to plan and Revere says Hancock’s given him so much money, he can have the place. The men then sit down and plan out their trial excursion.
A ship sails at night, with rather dark-colored sails, they turn off all their lights as they start approaching the shore, to avoid detection. Their strategy fails as the red-coats fire a warning shot, over the ship’s bow, then ride out on a row-boat and board the ship. The captain presents the soldiers with a bill of laden for twelve barrels of molasses and that’s all the red-coats can find, they remove a floor board and look in the hull but it’s empty. The soldiers leave empty-handed, but when they leave we see the ship’s cargo suspended by nets attached to the bottom of the vessel. Adams and another man unload the nets into a rowboat, then put the cargo in a wagon and head to Hancock’s warehouse.
Warren’s walking when he runs into the boy Christopher and asks what he’s doing, Chris tells him he’s the lookout and pushes the doctor close to the wall, so they’re hidden. Adams and two other men, come around the corner with the carriage and a red-coat stops them, wanting to inspect it. Warren tells Christopher to lie in the street and pretend he’s very sick. When the boy goes into his routine the Doctor, shouts to the red-coat for help then sends him to a shop down the road to get cardiac-salts for the boy. Sam and associates take off.
They reach the warehouse and Hancock’s ecstatic. He asks Adams how much he and his men can handle and Samuel responds how much you got? We head back to Revere’s workshop as the group starts planning to do their smuggling on a grand-scale. We even get some musical cues, first the sound of a tambourine, then some light percussion, except for the outfits, the scene could have been plucked from Ocean’s Eleven.
The operations a huge success as they outwit the British at every turn, they even minted some special coins for their members to be able to get wine and other goods from Hancock’s ships. Then Hancock gets a bit too cocky. He throws a huge party at his home and instead of a montage of women getting ready for the evening, we watch as the men of the era get primped, powdered and made up. He welcome his guests as a giant birthday cake lays below him on the main floor with rockets throwing flames into the air. Hancock then asks his guests to drink a toast to King George as this is his birthday.
As Hancock interacts with his guests, Governor Hutchinson comes to him clutching Hancock’s hand and telling him how admirable his comeback is. Hancock purposely keeps talking with other guests and Hutchinson says they’ll have to meet to talk about Hancock’s amazing success.
As we take a tour of Boston at night, we see the special coin’s infiltrated many of the city’s establishments. Suddenly a bald-headed man approaches a man sitting alone at a table and asking him for a coin, saying they’re both Irish. The man gives him one but tells him to take good care of it. We confirm that he’s Hutchinson’s spy and the Governor tells an aide to give Mr. Whittier his payment for doing his job.
The British raid all the establishments connected with Hancock and Adams, confiscating all the property and arresting the barkeeps and shop-owners. John and Samuel meet, Hancock suggests he just pay off the right people and they’ll return to Easy Street. Adams says that he wants them to organize a boycott of Tory shops and businesses. Hancock tells Sam that’s crazy and just going to make things worse and he leaves begging Sam not to do a thing. Adams and two other men spend the night painting white letter T’s on shops and pubs through the night.
Hancock heads to the pub the next day to ask Adams what he thinks he’s doing, this is business, he doesn’t need to get politics involved. Samuel laughs and says no matter how many parties he throws, he’ll never be British, John responds that his money keeps Adam’s out of a prison. Adams says at least he’d know what side he’s on, Hancock why does it have to be about sides? Adams looks him in the eye and says because the sides exist, then walks out.
Hancock looks behind him and sees Tim Kelly smirking and John asks Kelly as Sam’s friend if he could try to make him see reason. Kelly barely spoke throughout the two hours, but he became eloquent in this moment. He told Hancock that he’d most likely be shocked to find out that Kelly was a former property owner, with a wife and a little girl. Then times got tough for all the colonists and many lost almost all they had, then Samuel’s father opened up the first bank for colonists. They all owed land, so Adams senior gave them loans using their land as collateral, things got better, people went back to work.
Then the Brits decided they didn’t fancy the idea of the colonists having such independence and shut it all down, Adams went bankrupt and it drove him to an early death. Samuel’s just like his father, Kelly told Hancock, then told him of all the money they made with Hancock, Adams never kept a penny.
New graphic informing us we’re in Down-town Boston on February 22, 1770, it’s nighttime and the snows blowing and we hear a crowd chanting Tory, Tory. We see the crowd in front of a Tory supporter’s store and Kelly says the man’s hard of hearing so he sends a man in, to take him outside and face the crowd. An older aristocrat, who’s been in other scenes, berates the crowd and tells them to leave him alone. He then sees Christopher in the crowd and asks his mother what kind of parent she is taking her boy to this.
Now Kelly shows his anger and starts to approach the older man asking him who he thinks he is talking to Christopher’s mother like that. The man sees a red-coat and asks him if he’s going to do something and the young man just stands there. The old man punches the soldier and grabs his rifle and aims it at the crowd, somebody screams you can’t shoot us all and start chasing him, he makes it into his house and bolts the door. He runs upstairs to his terrified wife and the bedroom windows get shattered by rocks thrown from the crowd.
The old man’s in way over his head and he realizes it, shouts out to the mob to leave them alone but he’s struck by flying debris. He pulls up the rifle, points it out the window aims it at the crowd and we watch the bullet exit the weapon in slow motion. It goes into the crowd, we hear a giant mournful sigh and we see little Christopher’s oozing blood from his chest as the life ebbs from his body. The old man and his wife are mortified, Samuel arrives and picks up Christopher then gives his now lifeless body to Doctor Warren.
The next day’s the funeral and the procession goes past the aristocrat’s home as he’s heavily guarded by red-coats, as the procession moves on Hutchinson tries to join it and Adams tells him he’s unwanted. The Governor says he wants to extend his condolences and Samuel tells him they’re worthless. He’s got the boy’s father jailed and the aristocrat will escape jail. Hutchinson says that London’s the only place the man can receive a fair trial and Revere says that’s garbage. As he heads back to the State House he tells Samuel he’s got more of the boy’s blood staining his hands than stains Hutchinson’s.
March 5, 1770 King Street Boston, reads the graphic and we see colonists and red-coats in a standoff in the street. In the pub, the men are all consumed with grief, Adams sits in front of the fireplace, when his cousin John comes in to see him. John tells Samuel, the trouble must end and Sam says he was only a boy John. The future President looks his cousin in the eye and says this is where it has to end. Samuel stands up and says this is only the beginning, he and two men leave the pub and angrily walks towards the mob. We see John Adams watching from a distance.
As we join the mob we see the leader of the red-coat brigade telling his men to hold their fire, then he orders the crowd to return to their homes. A Black man pushes a red-coat, who responds by shooting the man dead. That man was Crispus Attucks, the first American killed by British gunfire and welcome to the Boston Massacre. Five colonists were killed that day by the red-coats in their panic. Adams runs at the red-coats, all scatter but one and he beats that soldier to the ground. We see Joseph Warren weeping openly, as the camera pans back and we see the five dead bodies and their blood coloring the snow.
The Series Resumes Monday Night at 9:00 pm on The History Channel.