History once again takes its “historical fiction” approach — the tack it took with its enjoyable series Vikings — and applies it to the miniseries event Sons of Liberty, a three-night mini series that follows the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.
The action in Sons of Liberty swirls around Sam Adams (Ben Barnes), a charismatic Boston bon vivant who has run afoul of colonial Gov. Thomas Hutchison (Sean Gilder), for failing to pony up tax revenue that he was hired to collect. Adams is pursued by British soldiers in a local Boston bar, and makes his escape. The ensuing fracas sparks a riot that snowballs into the destruction of the governor’s mansion.
Adams flees to the countryside home of his cousin, John Adams (Henry Thomas), who isn’t keen to involve himself in his relative’s trouble.
With Adams on the run and the Boston natives restless, Hutchison enlists the help of John Hancock (Rafe Spall), an influential and wealthy trader, to “take care” of him. Hancock does so by taking care of Adams’s debts, to Hutchison’s consternation.
The “deal” is seen by Hutchison as a challenge, and prompts him go stop looking the other way when it comes time to collect Hancock’s tariff s. Hancock and Sam Adams then find themselves as business partners, as Hancock looks to Adams and the future Sons of Liberty to help him skirt customs officials.
The ensuing unrest has Hutchinson send to Britain for help, and eventually Gen. Thomas Gage (Marton Csokas) is dispatched to the New World to deal with Adams & Co., setting the stage for the unrest that will lead to rebellion.
Pleading the case for the colonists in London is Benjamin Franklin (Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris), an unofficial colonial emissary in London who eventually gets deported for defending the colonists and, upon his return to Philadelphia, is enlisted to rally them together.
Sons of Liberty is fast-paced and action-packed and, in episode one, the exposition comes so fast and furious that it’s di_ - cult to match the familiar names to the faces who are portraying them. Once the skirmishes between the colonists and redcoats turn deadly, though, the scenes can pack and emotional punch.
The performances are strong and both Thomas (best known for his childhood turn as Elliott in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) and Norris make you forget their more contemporary characterizations. But the first episode’s constant flash-cutting between England and Boston as tensions head up can confuse the viewer at times.
Sons of Liberty will no doubt please those familiar with the Revolutionary period, but less exposition and more characterization might be better for contemporary viewers who don’t know quite so much about history.
Related: Check out what might have been on the dining tables of the Boston radicals here.