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Sons of Liberty: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Sons of Liberty (2015 miniseries) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Sons of Liberty
Miniseries & Blu-ray Disc Details

Director: Kari Skogland / Writers: Stephen David, David C. White, Kirk Ellis

Cast: Ben Barnes (Samuel Adams), Marton Csokas (General Thomas Gage), Ryan Eggold (Dr. Joseph Warren), Michael Raymond-James (Paul Revere), Rafe Spall (John Hancock), Jason O'Mara (George Washington), Dean Norris (Benjamin Franklin), Sean Gilder (Governor Thomas Hutchinson), Shane Taylor (Captain Thomas Preston), Emily Berrington (Margaret Kemble Gage), Kevin J. Ryan (John Pitcairn), Diarmaid Murtagh (Tim Kelly)

Original Air Dates: January 25-27, 2015 / Running Time: 259 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14-LSV on air)

1.78:1 Widescreen / 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Blu-ray Release Date: May 26, 2015 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 BD-25) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Sons of Liberty from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD + Digital Instant Video

History, as in formerly The History Channel, has come to focus much more on the "tainment" than the "edu" part of "edutainment." Judging by their escalating budgets and ratings, the cable channel is correct to believe that their original programming is not competing with textbooks and biographies but with "Mad Men", sports, and reality television. Gone are the days of History's scholarly documentaries.
Today, the channel gives us "epic events" like Sons of Liberty, a three-part miniseries that premiered in January and this week hits Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate, where it competes with winter's theatrical fare.

Sons of Liberty opens with a content warning, which it confirms is warranted with the blood that is splattered in its very first shot. It is immediately clear that this miniseries is not intended to replace or complement your middle schooler's social studies lesson or that thick, exceptionally researched history book you haven't felt the urge to read. This is historical entertainment as only 2015 basic cable can provide.

Episode 1, "A Dangerous Game" (1:25:22) begins in 1765 Boston, where British Redcoats come looking for Sam Adams (Ben Barnes, Narnia's Prince Caspian himself). The tax collector dodges his pursuers and soon a large angry mob led by him is descending upon the mansion of Governor Hutchinson (Sean Gilder). Hutchinson turns to John Hancock (Rafe Spall), a deep-pocketed young businessman who has been shown leniency in the past, to deal with Adams and help restore sanity to Boston. Hancock talks with Adams about the debt Adams is responsible for as a result of not collecting tax from his struggling friends. Hancock clears Adams' debts, but tensions between the colonists and their English rulers continue to rise, especially after the Governor tries to shut down the illicit underground network of businesses who are not collecting taxes for the Crown.

The 2015 History miniseries "Sons of Liberty" reimagines Sam Adams (Ben Barnes), seen here with battle-scarred Tim Kelly (Diarmaid Murtagh), as a rogue badass bachelor.

The second episode, "The Uprising" (1:26:51), builds toward Paul Revere's famous ride. The installment opens with December 1773's
Boston Tea Party and sees General Gage (Marton Csokas) appoint himself successor to Hutchinson. His attempts to instill law and order are not much more successful than his predecessor's. Unwilling to make Sam Adams a martyr, Gage does relieve Hancock of his wealthy mansion. Meanwhile, Gage's wife (Emily Berrington), a New Jersey native who sympathizes with her fellow colonists, starts up a steamy affair with her husband's doctor (Ryan Eggold). The Boston-originated Resistance movement struggles to find traction, but gets a slight boost from the support of George Washington (Jason O'Mara), who makes a brief appearance halfway through this episode.

The finale, "Independence" (1:26:17), ratchets up the action, starting at the Concord farm of Colonel James Barrett, where Redcoats search for a rumored supply of gunpowder. The (invented) extramarital affair of the second episode has brutal repercussions. After all the action, the series settles down for its true climax: voting on and drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Sons of Liberty does an excellent job of establishing and defining its characters, which differ sometimes dramatically from their historical counterparts. Sam Adams is a handsome, suave drinker and lone wolf. Benjamin Franklin (Dean Norris of "Breaking Bad") is a womanizer. John Hancock is a wealthy, shrewd deal-maker. Paul Revere (Michael Raymond-James) is really, really cool. The cast, which includes a number of UK actors portraying America's founding fathers, does not seem terribly concerned with doing their historical roles justice. They're primarily there to look good and tough, which they do.

There is some profanity, which certainly seems anachronistic. In general, one never feels this production is really capturing and conveying the complexities of the American Revolution. It is just presenting us some of the US' hunky, badass founders, who are shown to discover patriotism almost accidentally.

Do not expect the accuracy the channel's name implies. For example, Sam Adams, portrayed as a handsome young rebel, should be in his mid-fifties by the end of the series, but the youthful-looking Barnes, 33, isn't aged at all and is noticeably younger than E.T.'s Henry Thomas, who plays Sam's more famous cousin, future president John Adams. Those with greater familiarity of early American history can probably find other issues to take to task involving dates and policies.

Marton Csokas embodies evil as General Thomas Gage, a man whose actual principles differ from those displayed here.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Naturally, Sons of Liberty has picture and sound able to rival those of new feature films. Blu-ray presents the cinematic 1.78:1 visuals and potent 5.1 DTS-HD master audio with the greatest clarity and impact consumer home media can these days. The presentation leaves positively nothing to be desired.

Director Kari Skogland, the woman behind the Sons of Liberty, discusses the miniseries. Men in shorts get the audio and video needed for an action scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Three HD making-of featurettes accompany the third episode on the second Blu-ray Disc.

"Lensing Liberty: The Making of Sons of Liberty" (9:37)

discusses the many facets that have to be considered (e.g. production design, effects) when producing such a miniseries (even one as historically inaccurate as this).

"Choreography of War: Creating the Battles and Special Effects of Sons of Liberty" (9:08) focuses on the staging of action combat scenes, with more talking heads and looks at training, camerawork, and the like.

Finally, "Men of Independence: The Historical Figures of Sons of Liberty" (16:46) explores the series' characterizations much than the men as they truly were. Well, at least they're sticking with their interpretations.

Watch a clip from "Men of Independence: The Historical Figures of Sons of Liberty":

Disc One's only extra is "Trailers", which simply replays that disc's opening reel of previews for Houdini, The World Wars, and '71.

The main menus play clips adapted from the opening title. The discs, which include DTS-HD Master Audio sound check tests, allow you to resume unfinished playback and also to set bookmarks on scenes. Where applicable, episodes open with lengthy recaps and close with revealing teases as originally aired.

The two full-color discs take opposite sides of a slipcovered eco-friendly blue keepcase, separated by an insert supplying your Digital HD UltraViolet code and directions.

John Hancock (Rafe Spall), Sam Adams (Ben Barnes), and John Adams (Henry Thomas) catch Benjamin Franklin with a woman.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Sons of Liberty offers a diverting, if not especially admirable or accurate, take on the American Revolution. It takes plenty of liberties (no pun intended) and its historical accuracy is far from great. Still, you've got to appreciate an effort to bring the first chapter in American history to life in the reasonably compelling manner of a basic cable action-drama.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray deserves the highest marks visually and aurally. Its bonus features aren't much, though, and I suspect the miniseries' replay value may be limited.

Buy Sons of Liberty from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD + Digital / Instant Video

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Reviewed May 26, 2015.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Stephen David Entertainment, A+E Studios, History, and Lionsgate.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.