Some are born to bear the brunt of the biopic. Director Tom Hooper made a name for himself with the application of camera to history, and he did it well. The King’s Speech was solid work, and his turn to musicals with Les Misérables still offered the period piece iconography that had turned his work into something mesmerising and, crucially, entertaining. John Adams falls to the former, its mesmerising achievement here is capturing the story of the eponymous founding father. His rise to the presidency and inability to rise even higher. Detractions and deductions pave the road of Adams’ life, and with Paul Giamatti in the titular role, the core of this miniseries is complete. It is the perfect rendition of a life spent in government.
Where Hooper and company create meddlesome bureaucracy and shifting tides of countries near and far, John Adams is the eponymous being at the heart of it all. A delightful performance from Giamatti consolidates the thought that he is one of the undersung heroes of his profession. A trooper that can dedicate himself to just about anything. His appraisal of Adams is that he is a man spoilt for choice in a career that wants nothing to do with him or his ideas. He is flustered and frustrated, and the accuracy of the history Hooper deploys here is integral to that aspect of Giamatti’s performance. Without it, Giamatti and this refined cast would struggle on with little to compare themselves to.
But those little notes that Hooper layers on top of the tension are what makes John Adams a thoroughly exceptional period piece. The chimes of the bell tower in the background, the slightly off-centre camera that adds a nice touch to the shot-reverse-shot styling, which is fuelled by Dutch angles and bitter words. There are minor roles within that feel lacklustre or over-performed, but they are so brief and fleeting that they make barely any impact. While the series finds its feet in the first part, the courtroom drama brings out some accurate tension, predominantly from the dominating performance Giamatti brings. But he is not alone in this crusade for quality. It is the historical nature that underlines these moments that is so striking. It prevails with exceptional conviction.
Giamatti embodies the role so truly well. He is a marvellous addition to any project, but his role as the titular second President is incredible. All the right characteristics are there. He nails the accent, wraps himself deep in the historical standing of this role and delivers dialogue that is cutting and fashionable. Those around him are founded on purposeful supporting pieces. It is an ensemble worth diving deep into, with Tom Hollander, Andrew Scott and Tom Wilkinson providing some essential roles that pop up from time to time. John Adams has that ability, not just because it is a miniseries but because it relishes the history and the period. Hooper adapts the period piece style so well over seven strong episodes of quality, periodical entertainment. He has the facts to back that up though, which is arguably more important than anything else he wishes to offer.