J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 22, 2021

New Movies about Arnold and Adams

A couple of films about the Revolutionary War debuted this month. I haven’t seen them, but I know and respect historians involved in these projects, so I’m passing on the news for folks who like to take in historical stories that way.

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed is a docudrama available to rent or buy on YouTube, AppleTV, Amazon, and other platforms. It was directed by Chris Stearns and produced by Thomas Mercer and Anthony Vertucci, with co-producers Steve Letteri and Michael Camoin.

The main source was James Kirby Martin’s biography of Arnold. Martin was involved in the film as both an executive producer and an actor.

The trailer shows battle reenactments, enhanced with C.G.I., and dramatizations of important moments featuring Peter O’Meara as Arnold. The press release says the movie also “features insightful interviews with leading experts.” Martin Sheen supplied the narration.

The press material emphasizes how this movie gets beyond the caricature of Arnold as a treacherous villain. We probably haven’t seen authors offer such a one-sided portrayal in over a century, though. Dramas like the 2003 television movie Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor with Aidan Quinn and the later seasons of Turn: Washington’s Spies with Owain Yeoman also tried to depict why an American battlefield hero came to plot with the enemy and defect.

That said, phrases in the press release like “self-serving political and military leaders” and “an arbitrary system of personal favoritism and cronyism” make me suspect this movie goes further in portraying the situation as Arnold himself saw it.

Folks can watch the trailer for Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed on YouTube or I.M.D.B.

Quincy 400 just celebrated the local premiere of a feature-length documentary titled Beyond the Bloody Massacre. It features interviews with several historians who have written on that event: Hiller B. Zobel, Serena Zabin, Robert Allison, Kerima Lewis, and Daniel Coquillette.

The announcement of this movie says:
Beyond the Bloody Massacre presents the intersecting histories of the Boston Massacre Trials through the words and experiences of John Adams, and Josiah Quincy Jr., the two Quincy (formerly Braintree) born lawyers who defended a British Captain and seven [eight] soldiers in two murder trials in the late fall of 1770.
In addition, another local boy, Josiah’s older brother Samuel Quincy, was one of the prosecutors. And Christopher Seider, the young boy killed in Boston eleven days before the confrontation on King Street, was also born in the part of Braintree that became Quincy after the war.

This documentary was filmed last fall during the 250th anniversary of the Rex v. Preston and Rex v. Wemms et al. trials. The pandemic made it impossible to reenact those trials as we’d hoped. But this film promises to explore some of the legal, political, and moral issues they raised.

Quincy 400 appears to be an initiative of the city of Quincy, and particularly of longtime mayor Thomas P. Koch. The name refers to the 400th anniversary of British settlement of the area that includes Quincy in 2025.

I can’t find any information on who made Beyond the Bloody Massacre or how people can see it now. It’s not yet viewable online, but the Quincy 400 Facebook page promises “age appropriate school curriculum materials, live roundtable discussions, collaborative programs and future public viewings.” Plenty to come in three more years before that quadricentennial.

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