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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » American Experience: John and Abigail Adams
American Experience: John and Abigail Adams
Paramount // Unrated // January 24, 2006
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Louis Howard | posted January 29, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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This disc is a PBS presentation of yet another installment in their excellent American Experience series, this one focusing on John and Abigail Adams. Using extensive correspondence between husband and wife this documentary intends to paint a detailed picture of their personalities, both as individuals and as a team while also giving the viewer a fine history lesson on the times in which they lived. John and Abigail Adams played a critical role in many of the pivotal events of their era.

The DVD-

A glance at the list of titles and accomplishments of Adams is nothing less than astounding. First American vice-president, the nation's second president, author of the constitution of Massachusetts, which became the foundation for the national Constitution. Prime mover in the continental Congress, premier political thinker of the American Revolution, a man who convinced Congress to declare independence from England. With independence in doubt, he secured millions in loans in order to keep the American army from collapse. Ambassador to France during the revolution years. First Minister to England in post-war times.

At the same time Adams is shown to be a man at war with himself, wrestling with both enormous ambition and self-doubt. Someone with a great forethinking mind, an innovator of the Utopian system that was to become American independence. We are also given to believe that Adams was vastly ambitious, self-important, jealous of the high regard given a few of his compatriots such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. In short, something of a prima donna- someone who very much wanted to ensure that his name was not forgotten in the annals of time. Considering the fact that he followed in the footsteps of George Washington by becoming the nation's second president and felt that he had to contend with the likes of fellow illuminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the viewer can be more empathic to the insecurities of Adams.

Seemingly the lives of Adams and Thomas Jefferson are interwoven via their respective political parties and presidential aspirations, alternately friends, enemies and finally friends once more in the twilight years of their lives. For much of this program we are given some background and an overview of their time together in the colonial Congress, as emissaries and friends in Europe, as two esteemed political adversaries who were the focal points of their respective parties, bitter opposing candidates for the presidency and lastly as elder statesmen who shared the inception of a nation- corresponding with one another for many years until their (eerily same day) deaths.

His wife is painted as an extraordinary woman, and hailed here as one of the most phenomenal Americans of all time. Admirable, wise, a wonderful judge of character, insightful politician, and a wife devoted and admiring of her husband throughout their marriage. While our insights into husband John are mostly of a political nature, the overview we get of Abigail deals with her life without him there for comfort and support and seem much more personal- regional conflict, family illness and death, personal hardship, pregnancy and loss of a child, as shown through her eyes. We see her importance to John as he implores her to leave their farm and be at his side again and again, in several settings through the years, among them France, Britain, New York and Philadelphia- he obviously adores his wife and wants her support both emotional and physical once independence has been won. Abigail comes across as a towering figure of human strength, both as a loving, hard working individual and as something of a pioneering woman in American politics.

Narration here is by David Ogden Stiers. Notable are John Russell Beale and Linda Emond, who give fine performances throughout this presentation as John and Abigail. Also enjoyable here is the use of John McCullough- typically a superb narrator of numerous documentaries, here he is used onscreen for his talents as a historian and storyteller both relaxed and engaging. Listening to the man weave stories about the period and the many incredible personalities that shaped them is a pleasant suprise.

Video-

This DVD is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As this documentary is presented in a dramatization format, everything used here has been recently filmed. The colors are vibrant, rich and natural, the picture sharp and clean. An excellent DVD transfer overall.

Audio-

Presented in Dolby Digital stereo, the audio track here is almost entirely narration and is crisp, clear and easy to understand. Closed captioned with optional subtitles.

Extras-

Behind The Scenes- a three minute piece dealing with the making of the documentary, seen through the eyes of the actors and staff. To be honest I'm not sure why it was included- it is only mildly interesting and to be honest barely worth mentioning considering it's length.
Choice For Revolution- text on key events that took place during Adam's life.

Final Thoughts-

Another strong entry in the American Experience series, this documentary is an informative, compelling and entertaining experience overall. At 120 minutes it is a bit concise but has the advantage of brisk storytelling, keeping the viewer's interest throughout. Anyone with an interest in John Adams and his legacy or the tumultuous period of American history in which it is based should search this one out. Recommended.
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