The name Sam Adams may be familiar to most Americans nowadays as the name of a beer, but he was, of course, in real life one of the patriots instrumental in leading the American Revolution. He is one of the main characters followed in Sons of Liberty, the new scripted miniseries on History about the years leading up to that monumental event.
The three-night, six-hour Sons of Liberty (named after the moniker the group of young freedom fighters gave themselves) chronicles the years 1765-1775. While the Revolution itself has been covered in many a film and TV series, these earlier years not so much, and that was one of the appealing things about the project to Ben Barnes, who plays Sam Adams.
“Absolutely,” says Barnes, pictured center above. “That period itself has been somewhat disregarded, strangely, by film culture. I learned everything — because I was raised in the United Kingdom — where the focus is on European history, so really everything that I was learning [in his research for the role] was new.”
The miniseries looks at not only Sam Adams, but also John Adams (Henry Thomas), Dr. Joseph Warren (Ryan Eggold), Paul Revere (Michael Raymond-James) and John Hancock (Rafe Spall), among others, before they became patriotic legends, at the time when they were young rebels progressing from bar fights to everlasting fame. Barnes tells us, “It is absolutely a kind of very rough-and-tumble, critical, exciting version of events. It’s sort of a young, spirited telling of that period in history, which, you know, is a very exciting period anyway, but this is the official version.”
To aid in the “rough-and-tumble” telling of the events, Barnes says he wanted to infuse his character with a “sort of modern approach to this era. … You think of Sam Adams as a drinker [because of the beer named after him], and so I look at Sam Adams in history in terms of his first wife he lost very, very young; his father wanted him to go into the priesthood and, you know, he battled lots of these things but you see that they take their toll. So the obvious place for me to go with that is to go to drinking because that’s how we see and sort of what we might expect from Sam Adams, and it makes an interesting visual way to tell that emotional story. We wanted to make it feel young and modern.”
Of course, they have to stay true to the events, as well (“It’s on the History channel — you have to tell the truth,” says Barnes). So in addition to exploring his character’s possible emotional background, Barnes studied events of the period, through reading and listening to books on tape. He also watched a documentary about the recent revolutionary events in Egypt in which young rebels came to the forefront much in the same way the Sons of Liberty did.
“I think [the miniseries] absolutely reflects on modern political situations,” Barnes says, “because every system has its tensions and opposing policies and what they want to achieve and how they go about achieving it. … I think [in Sons of Liberty] some people will respond to the violence of that era, some people will respond to the political machinations and manipulations … or are just waiting for that moment of Paul Revere riding through on his midnight rides screaming about the troops’ arrivals. Whatever version of that history that it is you are hoping for, I think it’s in there somewhere.”
Sons of Liberty airs Jan. 25-27 at 9pm ET on History.
© 2014 Ollie Upton/History