Tube Talk: ‘Sons of Liberty’: Bringing the American Revolution to life

Michael Raymond-James as Paul Revere.
Michael Raymond-James as Paul Revere.

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

If you take just one thing away from watching History’s Sons of Liberty, it might be the surprise that our nation’s founding fathers were fairly ordinary guys.

To a big extent, these people were hanging out in a bar, just like people today,” says Stephen David, writer and executive producer of the miniseries. (Point of fact: that very Boston bar, the Green Dragon, founded in 1654, is still in business today.)

In school, we learned they wrote the Declaration of Independence and everything was well thought out, when in all actuality, a revolution doesn’t start that way. For a revolution to happen, it means people aren’t happy,” David says. “[Our founding fathers] were a bunch of young guys who were fed up with the system and wanted things to be different.”

Sons of Liberty stars Ben Barnes (Chronicles of Narnia) as Sam Adams, Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Shaun of the Dead) as John Hancock, Michael Raymond-James (Once Upon a Time) as Paul Revere, Henry Thomas (E.T., Legends of the Fall, Gangs of New York) as John Adams, plus Dean Norris (Breaking Bad, Under the Dome) as Ben Franklin and Jason O’Mara (Vegas, Life on Mars) as George Washington.

David hopes telling the story of the American Revolution by focusing on characters instead of dates will offer viewers a new perspective on the years leading up to the revolution.

You watch and think, ‘That’s why it happened? Because of that person’s ego? Or revenge?’” says David, who spent considerable time researching the war, the era, and the main players before writing the script. “It’s interesting how the whole thing escalated from nothing. There were many times during this period that the steam could have been let out and nothing more would have happened. But it’s always the same things that keep building that create wars.”

After Raymond-James was cast as Paul Revere, he started to research the legend. “As I began my research, I was hit over the head with a brutal reality: I actually knew very little about this uniquely legendary icon,” Raymond-James says.

Like most of us, Raymond-James knew Revere was a silversmith and pictured him riding through the streets of Boston yelling, “The British are coming!” But the actor learned Revere was a respected businessman who moved in many circles and covertly used his connections to gather intelligence about British movements, making him a valuable asset for the cause.

He wasn’t above using propaganda to achieve his goals,” says Raymond-James, noting he doesn’t judge Revere for resorting to such tactics. “Everything he did, in his mind, was to advance the cause of freedom for the colonies.”

Revere isn’t the only founding father often misrepresented in history books, and the six-hour miniseries is full of fascinating insights into the quirks and personalities behind them all.

David hopes his take on the decade leading up to the American Revolution will reinvigorate viewers’ interest in the era. “It’s important history,” he says. “It’s not just how a country started, it’s how our country started.”

Programming note

Sons of Liberty, part 1, debuts Sunday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m. Central on History; part 2 airs Monday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. Central; and part 3 airs Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 8 p.m. Central.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the Jan. 21-27, 2015, issue

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