This is going to be an Independence Day for the books, as Americans who have endured pandemic isolation from family and community bust out to celebrate (safely, of course) their freedom.
But, when the barbecue has been consumed, the swimsuits are hanging up to dry, and the fireworks are over, it may be time to collapse in an air-conditioned room and enjoy some entertainment.
Luckily, the choices below not only explore the events that led to America's Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, but are also enormously entertaining.
In a compact, engaging way, complete with memorable songs, this movie version of a Broadway show manages to do several things simultaneously:
- Lays out the basic facts and arguments for and against American independence
- Introduces us to the major players in a way that turns them from marble statues into humans
- Touches on the most difficult bits (like slavery) without wallowing in them
- Gives you tunes to hum as you’re flipping goodies on the grill.
And for past and current residents of New York State, there’s a line about the state’s legislature that should hit home.
It's not perfectly historical, and some versions of the characters differ from the originals, but it's a solid overview of the stakes and the players.
Oh, and much of the dialogue between John and Abigail Adams in 1776 is taken from their real letters. And even the bits that aren’t historical are memorable, like this exchange:
John Adams: It doesn’t matter. I won’t be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other d**n thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them – Franklin, Washington, and the horse – conducted the entire revolution by themselves.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: I like it.
Speaking of John Adams (2008) …
You could at least get a start on this excellent HBO miniseries, starring Paul Giamatti as the Founding Father, first vice-president of the U.S. and second president. Laura Linney also stars as Abigail Adams, and British actor Stephen Dillane plays Adams’ lifelong friend and political rival, Thomas Jefferson.
Again, it puts meat on the bones of the historical personages, explores the overwhelming struggles and obstacles at the nation’s birth — and reveals that the press was no nicer in the past than it is now.
Based on the book of the same name by historian David McCullough, John Adams manages to be fair to all the characters and their varied viewpoints (and that includes several references to the "sin of slavery") without falling prey to agendas or political correctness.
However, it's not perfectly historical (click here to see more on that), but it's a good starting point.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway musical helped launch the streamer Disney+ in 2020, and the film version does credit to the stage production (indeed, it's filmed very much in the same style, with the original Broadway cast).
Miranda went for color-blind casting, with actors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds playing the Revolutionary Era figures, centered on his starring role as the enigmatic Alexander Hamilton.
As I wrote in a detailed review last year (click here for that):
Clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes (with a one-minute "intermission"), it may take some folks a few stops-and-starts to get through the whole thing. Be aware that Hamilton a grown-up production, sprinkled with profanities (with a few of the most egregious ones trimmed or muted to get the show a PG-13 rating). There's no nudity, but there is some sexual innuendo.
The musical's historical accuracy has also been challenged. Miranda envisions Hamilton as a scrappy, illegitimate orphaned immigrant. All are true, except the immigrant part. Hamilton came from a British colony in the Caribbean to the then-British colony of New York. So, while he definitely departed an island for the mainland, he never actually left the political system he was born into -- until after the Revolution.
As a bonus ...
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and before the Revolutionary War came the French and Indian War, in which American colonists got their first real inkling of just how little regard for their rights the faraway British crown had.
Set in 1757, this sweeping romance is based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel. Directed by Michael Mann, it follows the adventures of scout Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo — a k a Hawkeye — played by British-Irish actor Daniel Day Lewis, as the American colonists get caught between the warring British and French, and their respective Native American allies.
As a native of the very region where the movie takes place — Lake George and the nearby towns along the Hudson River, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains — I can say there are a few geographical oddities in The Last of the Mohicans, large portions of which were film in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and none of which was shot in the Adirondacks).
But, having been steeped in these stories since childhood, I can say that it does them justice.
Among other venues (Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, etc.) that show the original film, Amazon Prime Video offers the "Definitive Directors Cut" here.
Image: Adobe Stock
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.