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Ghost Canyon

'The Adams Chronicles'
(George Grizzard, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / (1976)2008 / Acorn Media)

Overview: Winner of four Emmys® and a Peabody, 'The Adams Chronicles' created a sensation when it debuted in 1976. Lauded by contemporary critics as "the best and highest-rated series in the history of American public television," its vitality and historical integrity now prove timeless. This lavish series dramatizes four generations of Adamses and 150 years of American history from the birth of the Revolution through the Gilded Age. You meet John Adams -- passionate revolutionary and second president; John Quincy Adams -- proud son of a famous father and sixth president; Charles Francis Adams -- skillful minister to Great Britain during the Civil War; and Henry and Charles Francis Adams, Jr. -- historian and railroad magnate, respectively.

DVD Verdict: Produced by PBS as part of the American Bicentennial celebration in 1976, this superb 13 hour television film chronicles the lives of four generations of the illustrious Adams family. It depicts approximately 150 years - from 1750 to 1900 - in the saga of this family whose history is nearly synonymous with that of the difficult birth and adolescence of the American republic.

Central to this sprawling tale are the lives of four Adams men: the patriarch John Adams, the second president of the United States, his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, his son Charles Francis Adams, an Ambassador to Great Britain during the era of the Civil War, and his son, the historian Henry Adams. Because the family inevitably participated in the central events of their time, especially during the era of the Revolution and shortly thereafter, the series becomes a splendid, often probing depiction of America's early years. Featuring superb acting, wonderful period sets and costumes and, most importantly, truly stellar writing, this may arguably be the finest miniseries, along with the still unreleased Oppenheimer starring Sam Waterston, that American television has ever produced.

George Grizzard portrays John Adams from youth to old age. He is splendid, as is William Daniels who portrays John Quincy from ages 50 to 81. Daniels is no stranger to portraying Adams's having played John Adams in the film of the musical 1776. David Birney portrays John Quincy Adams from ages 36 to 48. John Beal plays Charles Francis Adams and Peter Brandon plays Henry Adams. John Houseman reprises his Paper Chase crotchety attorney role as the irrascible Justice Gridley, John Adam's early legal mentor.

The series depicts all of the founding fathers, doing so with humanity and very few marble bust performances. The women of the Adams family are portrayed with sensitivity and subtlety, averting the temptation of allowing them to become mere cyphers. Nancy Coleman and Leora Dana play Abigail Adams from her youth to her death, portraying John Adams' beloved wife with warmth, gentle humor, intelligence and stunning emotional depth. Her character's portrayal is crucial to the success of this series and both actresses acquit it with grace and style.

All of the many performances are exemplary in their own unique ways. It is gratifying that this series is finally available on DVD. If you enjoy historical drama and/or American history, then you will certainly enjoy this superb series. Most strongly recommended. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

A 12-Page Program Guide featuring Articles by C. James Taylor, editor-in-chief of the Adams Papers, and Neil Horstman, president of the White House Historical Association