Historical Fact vs. Historical Fiction: Sons of Liberty, Part 3

The last episode of the Sons of Liberty mini-series begins where the last one left off: at the battle of Lexington and Concord. The militia were able to fend off the soldiers. William Dawes visits James Barrett, who has been helping Paul, John, and Sam, and hides the weapons with the help of the minutemen. Major John Pitcairn, played by Kevin Ryan (Laredo, Copper) raids the farm and turns it inside-out in search of weapons, only to find a musket ball that Barrett claims is a nostalgic token. Revere and the minutemen make their move and send the British running to Boston.

The episode follows two storylines: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the meetings in the Second Continental Congress. At a loss for gaining help from the other colonies, Hancock and the Adams cousins turn to Ben Franklin for help. The four of them realize that they are on the verge of creating a new nation. John Adams, Ben Franklin, and John Hancock talk politics and make deals with the other members of Congress. Sam Adams, however, is restless and impatient.

I was kind of disappointed that they didn’t feature Colonel Prescott in the scene at Bunker Hill. He wasn’t established as a character in the previous episodes, but even the kids shows were quick to point out the real meaning of the battle: that even though the battle was a loss for the colonials, they were able to stand their ground against seemingly impossible odds. And even if Colonel Prescott wasn’t there, couldn’t one of the characters say “Hold your fire til you see the whites of their eyes”?

But like the scene with the First Continental Congress, the scene was more focused on the drama, particularly the death of Dr. Joseph Warren. It’s never stated how Dr. Warren died except that it happened as the British troops were gaining in. Because they included the storyline of the affair between Dr. Warren and Mrs. Gage, General Thomas Gage (played by Marton Csokas aka Lord Celeborn from Lord of the Rings). took it upon himself to kill Dr. Warren and rub the death in his wife’s face, punishing her for her adultery by sending her on the first boat to England. It kind of sucks, in my opinion, that the only prominent female character in this show ends up being a victim in the end. It may be historical fiction, but as long as they’re pushing things, I would’ve liked to have seen Mrs. Gage run away from her husband.

The news of Bunker Hill gets to the Congress. Washington volunteers to lead what will eventually become the Continental Army. Sam Adams, still restless and impatient, walks out about the same time. Hancock begs Sam to stay, but Sam is tired of politics. He rides out, but changes his mind. He also shows that he cleans up very nicely and is able to hold his own politically.

General Gage meets with Washington and politely asks him to let him and his soldiers leave Boston. Washington complies, but plans to follow Gage and his troops to New York City. Even as Boston parties, Revere and Washington know that things aren’t over.

The scenes that follow the Second Continental Congress go by quickly, with Jefferson being nothing more than a quick cameo. Instead, it focuses on John Hancock completing his character arc by taking Ben’s advice to reside over the Congress and Sam Adams completing his story arc by giving an epic speech about the necessity of independence when the idea of declaring independence from England gets put into motion. I understand that the story has been following Sam Adams and John Hancock, but Jefferson was kind of important. Then again, there’s already 1776, which captured the drama of the creation of the Declaration in a poignant, moving way. I would’ve liked to have seen John Dickinson enlisting in Washington’s Army or at least telling Congress of his intent to enlist. They also had the opportunity to have Ben Franklin give his quote of “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

I always wondered why, if the finished document of the Declaration was finished and the motion to declare independence from Britain was adopted on July 2nd, we celebrate on July 4th. I found the answer on the History Channel website. It turns out that there is something written on the back of the Declaration, but it’s not a treasure map as National Treasure indicated. Instead, there is just this: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

Once the Declaration was finished and signed, Washington reads the most well-known portion to his army. The Continental Army prepares to take on the British in New York City and the episode ends with Paul Revere carrying the Continental Flag as the battle begins. The scene is so epic, it almost makes me forget how the battle actually turns out.

Overall, I honestly wish that the Sons of Liberty series could’ve been longer. I liked how the story started with Sam Adams, but the events that follow the uprisings in Boston call for more of an ensemble cast. It was clear that the series was more focused on drama than historical accuracy, but the story is enough to intrigue people to look more into it.

Historical Fact vs Historical Fiction: A Review of Sons of Liberty, Part 1

Here’s something I don’t really tell a lot of people: The American Revolution is my favorite historical era. Growing up in New Jersey, I learned about the Battle at Princeton and watched Liberty’s Kids back when it was on PBS. The only Felicity I knew at the time was the series of American Girl books about a girl named Felicity, who lived in colonial times. Later on, I fell in love with the musical 1776 and always tuned into History Channel whenever they did a documentary about the movers and shakers or events that went on in that era. Although I watched AMC’s Turn, I lost interest in the show when it started glamorizing the main character’s adultery and didn’t really go so much into actual historical events. I wanted Turn to be more like an 18th century version of Alias, not James Bond!

But I got seriously excited when I saw the promos for a 3-part event called Sons of Liberty. History Channel is at its best when it’s doing, you know, actual history. I loved The Men Who Built America because it was history brought to life. It was as entertaining as it was informative. I expected Sons of Liberty to be something similar to that: a documentary with re-enactments of the events leading up to the revolutionary war. Instead, it was more along the lines of Liberty’s Kids, historical fiction that centers more on what led up to the events everyone knew.

Spoilers ahead!

The first episode centers on the events that led up to the Boston Massacre. The main character of the series is Sam Adams, played by Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian). Sam Adams is the instigator, the firebrand, who makes his “obnoxious and disliked” cousin John (played by Henry Thomas from E.T. and Gangs of New York)  look level-headed by comparison. He’s not a straight-laced hero, but he looks out for others in a really heartwarming way. He gets a word of warning from Doctor Joseph Warren, played by Ryan James Eggold (Blacklist), that there is a warrant out for his arrest for money he has yet to pay the governor. Dr. Warren doesn’t have much to do in this episode, but he becomes a good ally as the movement begins, informing everyone about the recent shipment of soldiers who were assigned to be the governor’s bodyguards and enforcers.

The most surprising character in the series is John Hancock, played by Rafe Spall (Prometheus). Hancock is portrayed as the fence-sitter, hoping to keep the peace in Boston while running his merchant business, smuggling Madeira wine, and keeping good relations with the governor. He is shown as an outsider, wanting to belong with the Boston elite, only for things to go wrong when the governor seizes Hancock’s ships. It was hard for me to believe that the man who would later have the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence started out as an unrealistically optimistic pacifist.

The riots in Boston lead Parliament to pass the Townshend Acts, which affected John Hancock’s business. Eventually, Sam and John begin a reluctant partnership to start a smuggling ring and recruit the help of Paul Revere, played by Michael Raymond-James (Once Upon a Time, True Blood). He creates a coin that the members of the smuggling ring use to inform customers of where the wine can be bought or sold. Unfortunately, the governor eventually gets wind of the ring and most of the distributors get arrested.

The fallout from the smuggling ring leads to Sam Adams planning a boycott, which Hancock disagrees with. (Historically, though, Hancock supported the boycott.) Unfortunately, the mobs in Boston start targeting the Torys, which eventually leads to the death of a young boy. I was very certain that that particular scene was historical fiction because there’s no record of anything like that happening as a result of the boycott, but a recent comment informed me otherwise. Christopher Seider’s death provides the escalation that led to the Boston Massacre.

The episode as a whole shows that the events that led up to the Boston Massacre aren’t as cut and dry as they seem on the pages of a history book or a Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, while the main site has a page listing the historical facts behind the major characters, they don’t have anything that relates to the plot of the episodes. I enjoyed the acting from everyone overall, but have a soft spot for Michael Raymond-James since I’m most familiar with him. (I wonder if there was a blooper of the scene where Paul Revere gets caught by the British soldiers where they ask him what his business is and Michael Raymond-James says “I’m the son of Rumpelstiltskin and I have to get the daughter of Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin away from Captain Hook!) As far as the story is concerned, it was a good combination of historical fact and fiction.

I highly recommend this show to people who enjoy the colonial period and the pivotal players. If you’re looking for something more historically accurate, I recommend a documentary or Liberty’s Kids, which is a very well-written and historically accurate show, even if it’s targeted to children. You can catch up on the series on History Channel’s website or on your local cable or satellite provider’s On Demand service. The series continues tonight and tomorrow and I will be posting my reviews on them this week.