Making American history accessible to a wider audience — in film, it’s been tried with varying degrees of success in everything from Lewis Milestone’s 1930 World War I drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” to Quentin Tarantino’s reimagining of the downfall of the Nazi regime in 1940s Germany in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
Now, History endeavors to familiarize more — and younger — viewers with the American Revolution with “Sons of Liberty.”
The three-night, six-hour miniseries, which premieres Sunday (Jan. 25), follows a group of young dissidents as they band together in secrecy to create and separate the 13 original colonies from Great Britain. They include Sam Adams (Ben Barnes, “The Chronicles of Narnia”), a charismatic born leader who fans the flames of rebellion; Paul Revere (Michael Raymond-James, “True Blood”), a military veteran who whole-heartedly joins the fight with Adams; John Hancock (Rafe Spall, “Life of Pi”), a wealthy Bostonian with much to lose; Dr. Joseph Warren (Ryan Eggold, “The Blacklist”), a man of integrity; and John Adams (Henry Thomas, “E.T.”), a lawyer and Sam’s smarter, more conservative cousin, who gradually comes over to the rebels’ side.
Naturally in a story such as this, the focus is on rebellion and parents will want to know that there is some profanity. But as executive producer and writer Stephen David explains, the inspiration for the production came from a very unlikely corner.
“I was on the elliptical and listening to Pandora,” he tells Zap2it, “and I heard the song ‘Paint It Black’ by the Rolling Stones. And I was thinking, ‘I wonder if there was any kind of teen angst involved in this. Like, were the 1760s kind of like the 1960s?’ “
David and his team did the research and found the story that formed the basis for “Sons of Liberty,” which Thomas, who plays statesman and future president John Adams, was drawn to from the get-go.
“I’m a sucker for historical pieces anyway because I’m sort of an armchair historian …,” the 43-year-old actor says. “But I also think the American Revolution is a great piece of history and a great theater for drama. And we haven’t really explored that in film as much as we could. So the idea of doing kind of a more youthful-oriented take on the events leading up to the Revolution … it was interesting to me.”
The story, which covers the years 1765 to 1776 and concludes on the first Independence Day of July 4, 1776, was filmed over the summer in Romania, a country that’s no stranger to rebellion, with the overthrow of the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in its not-too-distant history.
“This, to me, is the story of probably almost anyone’s revolution,” David says. “How these things really start, they don’t start cleanly. It’s not like they start with people in a room peacefully talking. They start this way, which is self-motivated interests and then miscommunications and escalations. So the people in Romania understood the story.”