First impressions of Turn

Watched the premiere last night, and it was pretty good.  It didn’t grab me by the lapels and yank me off my feet, but I’ll definitely be tuning in again.  I like the fact that it conveys the uncertainties and disruptions the war presented to civilians caught between the two armies.  The impact of the armies’ behavior on civilians’ attitudes and allegiance in the Revolution has long been an interest of mine.

My main criticism at this point is probably the portrayal of British officers.  The haughty, snotty Redcoat officer is something of a stock character in films about the Rev War.  One of the great things about cable drama is the room to develop full, three-dimensional characters.  In Game of Thrones, just about everybody wears a gray hat instead of a white or black one.  Of course, any show which features American spies as its protagonists is bound to have British officers as bad guys, but it would be nice to see a little more subtlety and complexity in the way they’re depicted.  But we’re only one episode in, so we’ll see where things go from here.  So far it’s not bad.

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7 responses to “First impressions of Turn

  1. One high-ranking British officer that does not fit the stereotype was Colonel Hugh Percy. Here is how I portrayed him in my historical novel “Crossing the River.”
    — Harold Titus

    Hugh, Earl Percy had been watching his soldiers perform their daily, except for Sunday, early morning close-order drills. Once the refuse of the streets of London and the ports of the Channel, rigorously disciplined, provided continuity, they had become good soldiers, many, he believed, good men.
    He was cognizant of the acute discontent rampant in other brigades, evidenced by the recent spate in attempted desertions. His own men were likewise weary of the banality of barracks life, of the repetition of incessant drill. They, too, had suffered the provocative insults of the town’s populace. Their generalized discontent notwithstanding, they had maintained their allegiance to him. Long ago, looking after their collective needs, he had won their fidelity.
    Months before they had come to Boston, Percy had given each man a new blanket and a golden guinea. Laying out 700 pounds, he had chartered a ship to transport to Boston their wives and children. Before coming to Boston and here as recently as three weeks ago, to inculcate fortitude Percy, a thin, bony man suffering from hereditary gout, had on long training exercises disdained the use of his horse.
    Percy’s officers revered him. He had honored their allegiance with frequent invitations to his table, at the mansion at the corner of Tremont and Winter Streets, formerly the residence of the royal governor, a fine wooden house surrounded by wide lawns.
    Without connivance, without deliberate forethought, he had fashioned a loyalty that other brigade commanders envied. An intelligent, attentive, generous aristocrat in His Majesty’s service, Hugh, Earl Percy was an anomaly.
    A member of Parliament, a young nobleman who one day would become the Duke of Northumberland, Percy, like his father, had opposed Parliament’s tax measures that had led ultimately to the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor. Lord North’s Tory government knew well Percy’s liberal, Whig viewpoint; but they knew as well his soldierly allegiance to English law and king.
    He had arrived off Boston July 4 of the previous year, a month and three days after the closure of the Port. He had initially approved of General Gage’s restrained enforcement of Parliament’s punitive expectation that Boston recant its destructive act. The General’s policy had approximated Percy’s accustomed mode of social interaction: respect people as human beings, mollify discontent, seek reasoned compromise, in specific instances help the indigent.
    The immediate assistance he had given the Boston family made homeless by a fire had been done without calculation. The compliments he had sent to a merchant’s wife on the excellence of her landscape drawings had been sincere. He very much enjoyed the respectable people of Boston. He had entertained many of the town’s gentlemen. Often, after the early morning drills had been completed, he had walked across the Common to the house of John Hancock to have breakfast with the acknowledged rebel leader, his Aunt Lydia, and, occasionally, Hancock’s rumored fiancée, the spirited Dolly Quincy, who, if gossip was truth, “fancied” him.
    In matters great and small the nobleman was percipient.
    He had entertained the thought that the king’s ministers had sent him to Boston to serve by example. If his presence reduced somewhat the hostility that much of the citizenry directed toward British officers, perhaps in time, with other officers emulating his conduct, reasonable Bostonians might modify their adversarial judgments. Like rainwater percolating to the roots of parched trees, their altered perception of British superintendence might, then, permeate the minds of the less rational.
    Thus, initially, his superiors may have hypothesized. If he had mollified to any extent the hostility of even a handful of righteous provincials, recent events had rendered moot that accomplishment.

    Charitable as he had been to individual inhabitants, his opinion of them as a group, upon immediate exposure to them, had swiftly hardened. He had been appalled at the nastiness of the Boston mob. They and the people that incited them were bullies, cowards. “Like all other cowards, they are cruel and tyrannical,” he had informed Reveley. The Congregational clergy’s practice of denying Loyalists admittance to their churches was abhorrent. These rebels are “the most designing artful villains in the world,” he had written to his father. Selfish and strident in the pursuit of their objectives, they were incapable of disciplined, cooperative accomplishment. Town meetings were never-ending debates. Their town militias — independent, jealous, wrangling entities — talked much but accomplished little. The best he had to say about his nine months amongst the people of Boston was that his tenure had been instructive.

  2. Agreed. I’m sure tired of the haughty Brits opposed by noble, virtuous Americans. The arrogant Brit has become as tiresome as the buck toothed “Jap” officer or the monocled Nazi!

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  3. Glad I didn’t read this before posting myself on it! I agree, we will see where we go from here in terms of the British. I wonder how the AMC writers will handle it, since a major driving force behind many of the founders was an unfair English societal construct and impenetrable upward mobility. The British simply rubbed many the wrong way (Franklin, Jefferson and Washington specifically), and in this case arrogance and snobbery is not too far from reality for many of them. But perhaps it was the system and society itself, since what I read of the Howes and Cornwallis is that they could be pretty approachable and were well liked by their subordinates.

    • Michael Lynch

      Sometime I’d like to see a portrayal of Cornwallis that conveys that–his genuine regard for his men and their regard for him. And I’d like to see some filmmaker capture the human, admirable side of the men who wore the red coats–their bravery, their loyalty to regiment and monarch, and their prowess in battle.

      • Agreed. If I was king, I would create a series similar to HBO’s Band of Brothers based off John Buchanan’s The Road to Guilford Courthouse. I think it is a fair portrayal of both British and American men and leadership. Buchanan was obviously an admirer of Cornwallis and Greene, but man he was delightfully brutal when discussing Gates.

        • Michael Lynch

          It’s funny you should mention that, because I’ve often thought Buchanan’s book would make a good basis for a Southern Campaign series. That was one of the first books on the Rev War I read, and I still admire it a lot.

  4. Pingback: Blundering nincompoops and sneering sadists | Past in the Present

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