John Adams

You know that pop art picture where Bogie and Marilyn and James Dean are hanging out at Phillie’s night diner? Elvis is the bar-keep? That one.

I was (bizarrely) reminded of that picture in the first few episodes of the award-winning HBO mini-series John Adams; just about everyone you’ve ever read about in connection with America’s finest hour keeps popping up in incongruous places. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hancock, Adams himself; it was oddly thrilling to get to see these assorted delegates to the Continental Congress in the same room. Who knew?!

Anyway, having been raised on a diet of prestigious BBC period dramas, John Adams is actually pretty good – Laura Linney is (again) particularly magnificent and neither is Paul Giamatti playing for laughs. What an odious, self-righteous, cantankerous little man John Adams was! I must admit though, I ran out of steam once the protagonists moved to France – perhaps because America’s foreign policy has sucked pretty much ever since.

The first few episodes were filmed in Colonial Willamsburg in Virginia – a place that’s (surprisingly) close to my heart. I spent one very leisurely sun-drenched holiday in that part of the world, cruising between the old British colonies of the East Coast in an open-top car. The Cuffs’ have been coming to the Americas since the early 1600s with admittedly somewhat ambivalent results. One of the first, my namesake Martin Cuff, emigrated to Virginia in 1622 and died there not even a year later at Elizabeth Cittie. Plague, I think. John Cuff was Cape Merchant of Bermuda at about the same time, the ship that was to take him on the America sank; I gather he went home…..

So I pilgrimaged of sorts to Roanoke Island, to Jamestown and to magnificent, Georgian Williamsburg (actually a living history “theme park” that the Yanks, surprisingly, do rather well.) Several of the town’s finest buildings appear in the series.