• (Review) Sons of Liberty

    Single Issue II

    Sons of Liberty (2015)

    Sons of Liberty Sons of Liberty explores perhaps the most important period in American history; the road to independence. Coming in at four and a half hours across three episodes, the series follows the lives of such figures as Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere as they live and struggle under the British Crown. But as the years go on and the grievances and discontent rises, these figures come together to ignite the revolution.

    There are some attributes that Sons of Liberty has that makes it a good production. The main positive attribute is that the cast is mostly well rounded, and the acting that comes with that cast is decent. Ben Barnes headlines the series as Sam Adams, the rebellious and reactionary cousin of future President John Adams. Barnes portrays the character well enough, though I’m not certain if he was the best choice of casting. The other characters such as Hancock and Revere all also portrayed well by Rafe Spall and Michael Raymond James, respectively. The series also has well known actors Jason O’Mara and Dean Norris as Washington and Franklin, who portray their limited roles quite admirably. The highlight of the series is Marton Csokas as Thomas Gage, the British general that arrives partway through the series to oversee the city of Boston. His performance was quite good, and easily one of the better parts of the miniseries. Overall, the acting is good, but there are some flaws in characterization that will be addressed later on.

    Sons of Liberty also benefits from other things as well. Shot in Romania like its predecessor Hatfields & McCoys, Sons of Liberty has the right atmosphere of a colonial America in terms of where it was shot and the locations utilized, albeit not quite historically accurate. The costumes are decently made, though it is clear that the series was fairly low budget and perhaps did not research to the degree that they should have. An example of this is the British uniforms, which are definitely appropriate red but simply look off from what they should look like in general. However, the weapons and most other costumes are still well made and period appropriate, and add to the immersion of the series. The series features three significant battle scenes in Lexington, Concord, and the final Battle of Bunker Hill, all of which are portrayed fairly well, though again have some issues. However, one thing I felt they did right was portraying the opening shot of Lexington as ambiguous, with the “shot heard round the world” happening offscreen as to maintain the debate over who fired first. Overall, the production values are decent, though not quite up to the standards of Hatfields & McCoys.

    That said, Sons of Liberty, comes with some incredible flaws that simply should not have been on film. The producers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to essentially throw history out the window with Sons of Liberty. For one, the series is not exactly what one would describe as “historical”. SIgnificant liberties are taken with historical events, and the result is rather unfortunate. An obvious example of this is the expanded role of Paul Revere in the time frame of the series. Revere is made into more of an action star and a leader than he really was, complete with him killing, with great skill, unfortunate redcoats that happen to come across him coming and going from his ride to Lexington and Concord. The simple fact that Revere did not even make it the whole ride is the least of the problems when considering the above, as Revere is not supposed to be a warrior. Additionally, he is portrayed as a leader at the climactic Battle of Bunker Hill, a role that he most certainly did not have at the battle. There are many other changes to history as well, which is frustrating as the time period is exciting enough without unnecessary changes.

    There are other significant flaws with the production as well. As already addressed, the series clearly suffers from a low budget. The sets are decent, as are the effects, but it is clear that not a lot of effort went into making things like multiple sets to portray the streets of Boston. It just looks kind of cheap overall, but not so cheap that it kills the immersion completely. An example of this is the Battle of Bunker Hill, a significant battle in the war that involved nearly five thousand men. In the series, the battle can be seen as the climax, yet only features maybe about hundred militia holding the hill against maybe a hundred British regulars, with the rest of the soldiers on the British side being filled in with obvious CGI clones. Budget constraints, sure, but the producers could have at least taken some steps to make it appear as if the battle was larger and more significant. Additionally, the American leader of the battle, Israel Putnam, is replaced by Revere and another historical character named Joseph Warren. As already discussed, Revere was not there in reality, and while Warren was, he was not there in a leadership role. The battle is fun to watch, no doubt, but it suffers from several production shortfalls.

    There are other issues as well. Characterization of certain historical figures has already been touched on with Revere, but there are other problems as well. The British in general are portrayed as overly villainous, almost to the point of absurdity. The key victim of this is the fact that Gage is portrayed as a monster that beats and almost rapes his wife. This seems entirely unnecessary as the British are already the “bad guys” of the miniseries, so there was no need to go over the top. In fact the only British officer that is portrayed in any kind light is Pitcairn. Additionally, characters like Franklin and Washington are wasted by the production, a shame given the people portraying them, and ultimately makes me wish the money to acquire them would have been put towards better production values. There was also an unnecessary romance between Gage’s wife and Warren which has no real standing in history, and does not really contribute much except making Warren’s death (at the hands of Gage, of course) more tragic. There are more flaws of course, but to go on would become repetitive.

    Do these negatives have a significant impact on the series? Of course, but it does not absolutely kill Sons of Liberty either. Discounting the obvious flaws, the series remains fun to watch. In fact, it is very entertaining, even in its absurdities. An easy example would be the rooftop chase in the opening of the series featuring Sam Adams that, while ridiculous and very reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed III, was a lot of fun to watch. The series is also the perfect length, I feel, at four and a half hours, and does not really have any serious pacing problems nor does it become overly dull. The battles, despite their flaws, are fun to watch as well, and do fairly well with their small numbers of extras. The music is great, including the opening theme which was composed by Hans Zimmer, and the dialogue is overall fairly decent.

    Sons of Liberty is good, but far from great. It definitely had the capability of being an excellent miniseries, but the flaws are too numerable to really overlook. It is a shame that so much in the way of history was changed as the period is good enough without alterations, and in many ways the alterations are only a disservice to the miniseries. Many of the issues could have been avoided in the production if they had simply adhered more to history and perhaps had a larger budget, but the miniseries that was made is all we could have perhaps hoped for. A shame, but overall Sons of Liberty is fun and entertaining, and worth watching if anyone has interest in early American history. If that was the point of the miniseries, then the producers succeeded very much in that regard. Just do not take what is in it as historical fact.


    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Great review, it's good to hear of a new series about this fascinating period in history. It sounds like a fun series, despite the changes to history, the budget limitations and the overly villainous presentation of most British characters. Unfortunately the video link for the Sons of Liberty main theme no longer works; it is possible to hear Hans Zimmer's stirring theme for Sons of Liberty on Hans-Zimmer.com (link). I really enjoyed reading David McCullough's book 1776: America and Britain at War. My only frustration was that this book (as the title suggests) only tells the story of 1776 - I wanted it to continue. I wonder if there was a similar feeling at the end of this mini-series - you mentioned that Bunker Hill was the 'final' battle.