Given that cinema and television are American cultural forms, the American Revolution has been underrepresented in film. The formation of the United States has been virtually disregarded by the media, despite it being one of the most significant political upheavals in history. Inconsistent, to put it politely, have been the productions that have materialized so far. Even in the worst of them, there are situations or lines of conversation that inform or confront. On a scale of one to ten, these are the best and worst lines or situations from Revolutionary-themed films and TV shows, as well as their historical accuracy and entertainment value. Non-fictional works, such as documentaries and animated films are not included here.
11. The Devil’s Disciple (1959)
Adapted from a play by Irish author George Bernard Shaw, the film stars Sir Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Burt Reynolds. Is there anything that could go awry? Sadly, the answer is a resounding yes. This was supposed to be fantastic. As it turned out, it was nearly impossible to watch. Kirk Douglas plays Dick Dudgeon, a Revolutionary Puritan who was mistaken for local priest Rev. Anthony Anderson by the British and imprisoned for treason. Olivier, on the other hand, plays Gen. John Burgoyne as if he knows he’s made a big mistake and calls it in. In Shaw’s view, this film was one of Olivier’s worst failures, while Olivier himself considered it one of the worst of his entire career. It’s hard not to agree with them, to say the least. With Shaw’s caustic speech mutilated by the screenplay, the whole thing is immensely dramatic but in a mechanical and unartistic manner. Satire is swapped out for outright silliness. There are high-quality sets and incredible action sequences. There’s no chemistry between the three stars, who all seem to be scared of each other’s public image. As the unfortunate victim of a War Office oversight, Olivier receives the bulk of the dialogue, which he generously lends to the play’s wit.
10. The Rebels (1979)
The “so awful it’s good” category is topped by this 1979 made-for-TV drama based on the historical novel. Replete with Don Johnson, Doug McClure, and Andrew Stevens as “Rebel,” the thirteen-colonial great and good are paraded on to make excessively portentous pronouncements before vanishing into thin air. No matter how hard they try, the Founding Fathers can’t seem to get anything done. In the Revolution, this is Falcon Crest. A swashbuckling tale without a swash, buckle, or even a lot of action.
It’s the best. For a man of my advanced years to even consider the pleasures of the flesh, much less relish them, is such a wonder to see that leaves even my sharpest critic struck speechless with amazement, said Benjamin Franklin when accused of being a womanizer.
9. Revolution (1985)
Is this a well-known production firm? Goldcrest. Check. He’s one of the best actors in cinema? Al Pacino, to be precise. Check. A director who’s won an Oscar? Hudson Hugh. Check. A $30 million budget? That’s insane. Check. Let’s all relax and enjoy the Oscars, shall we? The finest film on this list should have been Revolution. It’s hard to know where to begin, but if it were a musical, it would be Cats on steroids. If only it had worked out this way! Art direction, staging, and costume design are all top-notch in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, which looks like colonial New York. It’s also reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in terms of cinematography and lighting. But that’s all there is to it. Aside from the narrative and plot, everything else is a complete waste of time. As the accidental revolutionary, Pacino mumbles his way through the part incoherently. To put it mildly, Donald Sutherland has the most ludicrous British accent imaginable, shifting between Cornish, Cockney and Yorkshire in the span of a single sentence. Even though I’m British, I was pleading for the surrender of Yorktown long before it happened.
8. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
When I was a kid, this John Ford film plagued me on gloomy Sunday afternoons with its tremendous schmaltz. Henry Fonda plays a married couple who must battle Indians and Loyalists in the wilds of New York in this thinly veiled tale. Only Edna May Oliver’s role as battle-axe Mrs. Mcklennar can overshadow Henry Fonda’s performance as patriotic Gilbert Martin. John Carradine’s performance as a one-eyed Tory, Caldwell, is likewise impressive and scary, although he isn’t on screen long enough. In reality, the movie’s greatest asset is its ensemble cast, who hams up a weak script with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but fall in love. Only Claudette Colbert’s role as Fonda’s sycophantic wife irritates. Although the picture was filmed just before World War II began, it was released after the conflict had begun. This is notable. For safety’s sake, “Tory” was used instead of “British,” anytime a Patriot screamed at the enemy, rather than the original phrase “British.”
7. April Morning (1988)
It’s rare to see a better performance from an actor in a lower quality film. Until he is gunned down on Lexington Green in a shockingly lackluster death scene, Tommy Lee Jones plays Patriot Moses Cooper and carries this production on his back. It’s just a glorified reenactment video with some of the worst dialogue ever put on professional actors from there on out throughout the film. It should have been a lot better than it was. The screenplay was written by James Lee Barrett, who created the Oscar-winning Civil War picture Shenandoah. There’s also the late great Rip Torn in there, giving one of his worst-ever performances reciting lines like, “What is peace without dignity, what is peace without honor? ” “The King’s peace is a form of slavery.” Even though the British are merely cameos, the only real source of emotional tension in the film is the budding romance between two young Lexington peasants. I hoped the British would arrest both of them for committing a crime against theatre before we set off for Concord.
6. The Patriot (2000)
The Patriotic Revolution, despite its many critics, remains popular among many Americans. In spite of its various mistakes, I am not one of those professors. Perhaps as a work of history, it is a complete waste of time, but as an exciting piece of cinema, it deserves to be applauded. During the American Revolution, a British officer brutally murders the son of Benjamin Martin, a farmer and militia leader in the colonial militia. In the film, “the Ghost” is definitely Francis Marion, while “Tavington” is a thinly disguised Banastre Tarleton. Even if Gibson is a great choice for the role, there are two standouts: Jason Isaacs as the dashingly evil Tavington, and Tom Wilkinson as the sarcastic Lord Cornwallis.
5. Turn (2014)
This AMC show, which lasted four seasons, is both revered and reviled. I’m in love with it. For those who aren’t a fan of historical fiction, this show is bound to annoy them. In contrast, those who have never heard of the Culper Spy ring will be absorbed in the story. It is based on the story of a Long Island farmer, Abraham Woodhull, and a gang of spies who were able to “change the tide” in the American Revolution. Everything from the photography to the fonts to the costumes in the play is top-notch, and the acting is excellent. After seeing the Queens Rangers, I was enthralled by the costume designer’s attention to detail, down to the crescent moon on the helmet of their Loyalist uniforms. While the British may have lost the war, the American characters in this series are outclassed by the British. There is little doubt that Burn Gorman, Angus MacFadyen, and JJ Feild are all excellent in their respective roles. Lt. John Simcoe, played by Samuel Roukin, is the real star of the drama. On-again, off-again romance with Anna Strong led me rooting for Major Hewlett’s totally decent but lame British love rival, Jamie Bell, who plays the principal character.
4. Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor (2003)
When it comes to imagining Kelsey Grammer as George Washington, how far down the list would you go before you came across him? Perhaps an odd choice, but he does a fantastic job as the country’s Founding Father in this biopic’s “curtis egg.” Aidan Quinn as Arnold and Flora Montgomery as Peggy Shippen are also excellent. With John Kavanagh’s portrayal as Judge Shippen, one of the Revolution’s more minor figures, the cast is almost universally excellent. A sarcastic, effete, social-climbing John André is the only character who doesn’t work. That’s a good thing, to be sure. Dialogue that’s packed with twentieth-century terminology and compresses true events can be a problem. Budgetary limits meant that rural Ireland had to serve as a substitute for Quebec, New York, Philadelphia, and London.
3. The Crossing (2000)
This picture, which is based on Howard Fast’s novel of the same name, is the most underestimated of the bunch. Acting as George Washington, Jeff Daniels stars in the film that depicts the historic crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. The cinematography and supporting characters are also superb. Daniels’ portrayal of Washington in the film is distinctive in that he doesn’t shy away from being sarcastic or sarcastic. At times, his character says and does things that the real commander-in-chief may never say or do in his entire life. His portrayal of the character is, nevertheless, the most empathetic that can be found on the big screen. While Fast has been a lifetime Socialist, he has slipped some rather extreme remarks into the mouths of the Revolutionaries that have more to do with 1970s American politics (the original novel was published). The producers, on the other hand, appear to have overlooked the subtlety.
2. Mary Silliman’s War (1994)
For many people, this film will be a complete mystery. What a shame, considering this is one of the most insightful pictures of the American Revolution that can be found. In most productions about the war, fighting and political events are the main focus. Civil war tears a rural Connecticut town apart, and Mary Silliman’s War examines the resulting tensions and injustices that arise. The setting is distinctive, but the story is what makes it stand out. In retaliation for the hanging of two Loyalists, Mary Silliman’s attorney husband was sentenced to death, and she is attempting to save him. The film focuses on problems of feminism, slavery, and loyalty with different degrees of success in an effort to portray a credible societal portrayal. Big-name actors, action sequences, and a fabricated love interest are all conspicuously absent from this film. Thoughtful and insightful discourse instead shines brightly.
1. John Adams (2008)
This gripping miniseries, based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, illustrates that you don’t need to dumb down history to be popular. Films about Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson have been overly respectful. John Adams shines since he’s surrounded by one of the most questionable Founding Fathers. HBO could start from scratch. The film’s production values are unmatched, starring Paul Giamatti. Sailboat rigging sways and clatters, while cobble stones sparkle in the sunlight. The dialogue is equally impressive. Lines written in an eighteenth-century style are given to the performers in the play. “O.K.” “Keep a low profile” and phrases like “our bunch constantly gets shafted” aren’t used here, unlike some of the other dramas listed.