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4 Reasons You Must Watch HBO's "John Adams"

At last night's Emmy Awards, HBO's John Adams miniseries won a boatload of awards. It's out on DVD now, and I enjoyed the heck out of it when it aired on HBO earlier this year. It's must-watch material for anyone with a keen interest in American history, and "should-watch" material for everyone else. Here are a few reasons why I think you should give it a look.

1. It's the Emmy-Winningest Miniseries of All Time

John Adams won a staggering thirteen Emmies, which makes it the biggest winner in miniseries history. Among the honors it received were Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Writing (Kirk Ellis), and both Lead Actor and Lead Actress (in a Miniseries of Movie) awards for Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. Tom Wilkinson also got a Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Benjamin Franklon. If that's not enough, go read the full list of awards at Wikipedia. (While you're there, check out the list of historical inaccuracies in the miniseries.)

2. A "Low Talker" With a Lot to Say

You can easily tell from the trailer that Paul Giamatti's performance as John Adams, while excellent, is sort of hard to hear. There's a lot of mumbling and whispering going on, even in scenes where you'd expect shouting (for example, in courtrooms). If you're a mumblephobe like me, just turn on your TV's closed captioning (or subtitles on the DVD) to catch the dialog -- trust me, it helps. For a taste of Giamatti's low talking, here's the trailer:

3. It Humanizes the American Revolution

The events of the American Revolution are truly remote to most Americans today -- a few hundred years will tend to do that. HBO sought to made a miniseries of huge scale and budget (over $100 million) that still focused on the core drama of the personal lives of John and Abigail Adams and their children. By examining the story of the Revolution on two scales: the national political struggle, as well as its personal cost to a family, the miniseries succeeds in explaining why Adams was such an interesting guy. (He was also kind of a jerk, especially to his kids, but perhaps you'll give him points for public service.) But seriously, there's a lot to digest in this collision of public and private life -- Adams keeps finding himself torn between duties to country and duties to family, and he really does have to choose one (as duty to country often means being on another continent for years, as well as braving dangerous ocean voyages, wars, disease, and so on).

4. Tom Hanks Does Great TV

Tom Hanks was Executive Producer (with Gary Goetzman) for the miniseries. Hanks has been involved with a ton of good television in recent years, including Band of Brothers, From the Earth to the Moon, and even Big Love. Check out this video to hear Hanks and writer David McCullough talk about the making of the miniseries:

Have I convinced you to "John or Die?" You can get a copy of the miniseries on DVD at Amazon for under $40. It's also available on Netflix (three-disc series).

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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