Home > History, Reviews, Television > TV Quickshots #19

TV Quickshots #19

Sons of Liberty (History Channel; 2015)

Considering the centrality of the American Revolution in the history of the United States and in the identity construction of Americans from the Civil War to today’s Tea Party, it’s a bit surprising that thSOL-JanuaryReleaseDateere have been basically no classic portrayals of its events in the movies or in other media. Perhaps a narrative that is forced down the throats of American schoolchildren in history class needs no fictional component to support the textbooks. Or perhaps that narrative is already so full of fictions that a story of the War of Independence would be rejected by audiences if told with historical fidelity.

You won’t get such historical fidelity from Sons of Liberty, even if it did air on the History Channel. You’ll get a beautifully shot, seriously acted, tightly constructed version of the key early moments of America’s founding struggle for self-determination and nationhood as a grimly masculine action movie. Rebels against tyrannical British rule sneak like nimble ninjas across rooftops, blood spurts from musket wounds, and everyone from silversmith Paul Revere to paunchy middle-aged brewer Samuel Adams is a handsome young warrior with a martial artist’s grasp of hand-to-hand combat.

As history, Sons of Liberty is garbage, as Thomas Verenna lays out exhaustively and convincingly for the Journal of the American Revolution. The most egregious of its mistruths is also the one that undergirds all American populist conceptions of the Revolution: the tyrannical oppression of the colonies’ British overlords. Genre mainstay Marton Csokas appears as General Thomas Gage, a sadistic, sneering, cartoonishly evil redcoat villain who breaks laws and moral codes with impunity. The real Gage, as Verenna lays out, was frequently criticized by colleagues in the colonies and back in England for being too fair-minded, lenient, and liberal in face of the increasingly provocative agitations of the Sons of Liberty.

Modern Americans, self-defined by a love of liberty (especially in economic terms) and a distaste for raggedy “European”-type protests and revolts, must need have a tyrant to justify a rebellion that was, historically speaking, quite radical if not wholly unprovoked. Sons of Liberty, with its ninja patriots and perfidious Albion stereotypes, give Americans the dramatic Revolution that they imagine they mounted, not the equally dramatic one that actually happened. We’ll have to continue to wait for an onscreen treatment that provides the latter.

Murder on the Home Front (ITV; 2013)

A period-specific entry into the endlessly flexible British television murder mystery procedural genre, Murder on the Home Front is a one-off TV movie take on the genre set during the London Blitz of World War II. As German murderhomefrontbombs fall, buildings crumble, and civilian bodies stack up, unorthodox, forward-thinking medical examiner Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy) enlists intrepid reporter Molly Cooper (Tamzin Merchant) as his assistant in a proto-forensic inquiry into a series of murders. Collins must contend not only a killer and a continuing enemy bombardment, but also with his cynical, conservative supervisor Professor Stephens (James Fleet), a police force that is often corrupt or incompetent or both and contaminates crime scenes with clumsy regularity, and a snaky dance club owner with organized crime ties (Ryan Gage).

Murder on the Home Front is often frothy stuff, inserting copious suggestions of sexuality into the normally austere social picture of the Blitz period in London. When you could die any day in a nasty explosion, why not dance and screw your nights away? Still, one feels it’s laid on a little thick. So is the by-the-numbers romantic plot between Collins and Cooper, whose weakness is made especially apparent by the lack of chemistry between the casual, smirking Kennedy and the plucky but spacy Merchant. The real delight is Gage, who played Alfrid in The Hobbit movies and brings a similar pause-heavy sliminess to suspicious gangster Danny Hastings. I don’t have the requisite knowledge to assess the level of forensic science accuracy in the historical period (though, as a recent Frontline suggested, not much of it beyond DNA testing is actually reliably scientific). But this watchable, involving, but often pulpy and predictable mystery does not overstay its welcome in TV film mode as it might have as a series.

Categories: History, Reviews, Television
  1. No comments yet.
  1. April 11, 2015 at 11:16 am
  2. August 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: