The Revolutionary War is a lot more than dates and battles and guys in powdered wigs. It was fought in front yards, on the back forty, down the road, up the hill, and over dining tables and picket fences across the colonies.
It pitted rebels against an empire that didn’t feel obligated to give them their rights under the law yet felt entitled to a chunk of what they created with the sweat of their brows.
And like all great conflicts, a fair part of it was conducted in complete secrecy.
On Sunday, April 6, AMC premieres “Turn,” an espionage thriller based on the nonfiction book “Washington’s Spies,” by Alexander Rose. It centers on Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), an ordinary farmer supporting his family in British-occupied Setauket, Long Island.
But when the war comes too close to home, Woodhull joins forces with childhood friends Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), a Yale classmate of Nathan Hale, now an officer in the Continental Army; whaler Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall); and Anna Strong (Heather Lind), wife of a patriot leader, to form the infant nation’s first spy network, the Culper Ring.
Also starring are Ian Kahn as Gen. George Washington, Angus Macfadyen as British mercenary Robert Rogers, JJ Feild as British spy John Andre, and Kevin McNally as Abraham’s loyalist father, Richard Woodhull.
Meegan Warner plays Abraham’s wife, Mary; Burn Gorman plays British Major Hewlett; and Samuel Roukin plays British Captain Simcoe.
Executive producers are Craig Silverstein and Barry Josephson; the project filmed on location in and around Richmond, Va.
Founded in 1737, the city is the current capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia and notable for such Revolutionary War events as Patrick Henry’s 1775 “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech and the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was written by Thomas Jefferson and disestablished the Church of England in the U.S. and granted freedom of religion to all, including Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
And that wasn’t the only thing attractive about it as a location.
Says Silverstein, “We found they had the sets, some still standing, from HBO’s ‘John Adams’ and Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln,’ all in the same area, which is called the State Farm, which is state-owned property.
“The house you see where Abe Woodhull’s dad lives, that was Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home; that’s called Tuckahoe. They let us film inside; they let us film outside.”
For British-born Bell, who lives with his wife and new baby son in the States, playing Woodhull was a strange experience.
“In a way,” he tells Zap2it, “I have a different relationship with England as a whole. I don’t live there anymore; I live here now. I have that sense of separation from them.
“So it’s weird, it feels perfect, that I’m originally from there, but I have this sense of total separation from it, and I’ve set up home somewhere else. If someone came here and did the same thing that they did to the colonists, I’d have a similar reaction — which is, I don’t know what the hell I’d do about it.
“I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with it, but because I’d want to take care of my family, but ultimately, it’d be like, ‘It’s our land; this is our home; we govern ourselves. We’ve been here long enough; I think we can manage it.'”
A native of Minnesota, Numrich hadn’t heard about the Culper Ring, but he learned fast.
“Most people in this country don’t know,” he says. “These aren’t household names. Hearing about these people and hearing about the lengths that they went to, the risks they took, and the impact that it had on the course of the war and changing the tide of the war … there’s an argument to be made that their efforts really affected the outcome in a huge way, uncovering the Benedict Arnold plot.
“These characters were all wrapped up in a lot of these huge, monumental events during the war. It was surprising to realize that these characters aren’t known. We get the opportunity to tell those stories.”
For Lind, it’s about fighting the war at home.
“A lot of what I’m dealing with,” she says, “is the domestic front of the war, what it was like to quarter soldiers and do their laundry. It was an incredibly invasive system. The people didn’t have any extra money to do that. They were barely keeping it together, and they had to support five soldiers and 10 soldiers.
“It was not the battlefront. It was what they did in their off time. It was when they were drinking and when they were having festivals and when they were sleeping. There were lots of little domestic conflicts.
“Just what was it like to do somebody else’s laundry, who wants you to die? What does that feel like? It’s just so humiliating in some ways.”