Sons of Liberty (2015)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

A period piece riddled with historical inaccuracies and anachronistic flaws seems a strange choice for the History Channel to make, but while if you don’t look too close, Sons of Liberty is a rollicking good time, it’s a little short on truth.

Samuel Adams (Ben Barnes) has a bit of a problem: in his role as a tax collector for the British government, he has been letting his friends off the hook... to the tune of $800, which the governor now expects him to pay. Adams keeps his debtors at bay by using the Boston Street Gangs to cause civil unrest, while his new friend John Handcock (Rafe Spall) seeks ways to smuggle goods into Boston without paying taxes.

Their associate, Joseph Warren (Ryan Eggold) fears this may lead to further trouble when in a desperate attempt to instill law and order to the hot-tempered city, the English reinstate the brutal General Gage (Marton Csokas). His arrival sends shockwaves through the faction lining up for Independence, and when his wife Margaret (Emily Berrington) finds herself sympathetic to the cause, events unfold faster than any of them anticipated.

I’m of two minds about this series; it appalls the historical devotee in me, who takes affront at the stereotypical, inaccurate depiction of British General Gage and his wife, who winds up in bed with Warren (this never happened). The entire series is riddled with similar inaccuracies (Sam Adams here is a rooftop scaling, beer-guzzling 30-something instead of a married man with children), right down to General Washington’s opinion of Gage (here, he hates him and thinks he’s dreadful; historically, they were friends prior to the conflict).

From a writing standpoint, the series tries to cover too many bases at once and spreads itself too thin -- the sacrifice being character depth or development; everyone is flat and one-dimensional and no one has a lot of screen time. Many good ideas are thrown into the mix, but lack sufficient build up to make the emotional dynamics work. It’s a shame, because it “wastes” some excellent material, shoved in amid the typical melodrama and anti-British bias (naturally, the good guys are all Colonialists). But, the production value is extremely high; a lot of cash went into this, and it shows. The costumes are great. The series has a lot of dramatic, powerful scenes (explosions, battle scenes, ship warfare, etc). Hans Zimmer did the opening title score. And the actors are terrific.

In truth, despite my sense of shocked amusement at the raging inaccuracies, I was able to put aside my indignation and enjoy it for seven plus hours, which speaks to the power of an attractive presentation, even if the material falters.

Sexual Content:
Two sex scenes, both clothed (a man and his mistress; some thrusting; and an adulterous affair, kissing and caressing in bed). A man shoves his wife onto a bed and climbs on top of her, but only to threaten her. Some cleavage in period shifts / gowns. Franklin makes a suggestive remark to a maid.
 
Language:
Frequent uses of bull----; an abuse of Jesus’ name. Profanities. One use of “buggar off.”
 
Violence:
Frequent bloody conflict; many people are shot, sometimes in the head (close up and distance shots). Gangs riot and destroy houses / threaten people’s lives.

 
Other:
A man rips a painting of the king off the wall and urinates on it.