AMC’s “Turn” – First Season Review

TURИ, the AMC cable network series that recently finished the 10th episode of its initial season, has been renewed for a second season of ten more episodes. Before the season aired, Michael Schellhammer, who screened the first three episodes, wrote a generally positive review of the series that referred to it as “a fascinating look into how these intrepid American spies helped win the Revolutionary War.”[1] Based on Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies, The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, the series purports to describe America’s first serious foray into the world of espionage. AMC refers to the story as an historical “thriller” set during the American Revolution. Some viewers might agree on the “thriller” description but others have some trouble with “historical” as a modifier.

One writer, while noting the attention brought to the town of Setauket, asserted that “when a producer and a network advertise a program as ‘a true story,’ and then proceed not only to bend the truth but, on occasion, to break it across their knees, and when ‘real’ characters bear no resemblance to their flesh and blood namesakes, it is time to protest.”[2] Simply put, why can’t we let the real story, as dramatic as any writer’s creation, just tell the facts?

The series, however much it relies on historical fact, is first and foremost an entertainment project so its creators are less concerned about historical accuracy and more concerned about tune-in (i.e. ratings), option pick-ups for additional seasons and advertising revenues. Series like Turn are the audio visual equivalent of historical novels, one of the most popular genres in fiction. The historian is more concerned that facts are accurately presented and that the public doesn’t get a warped view of people, places and events that constitute the history. The push and pull between historical accuracy and dramatic license in film and television is a subject for lively debate as has been commented upon at least one hundred times at the Journal of the American Revolution. There were thirty-seven comments to Schellhammer’s article. Thomas Verenna’s article about the Sleepy Hollow television series provoked twenty-four comments and Hugh T. Harrington’s piece on the top ten American Revolutionary War movies resulted in a whopping forty comments.  Even historians love and love to hate the movies and television.

The basic goal of film and television producers and the outlets that distribute them is money. The more entertaining a project, the more eyeballs watch. The more eyeballs that watch, the higher the ratings. The higher the ratings, the greater the advertising revenues. In the world of Hollywood executives and network programmers, a hit series means higher revenues and higher bonuses. As a result, ‘literary license’ is always taken and historical truth is a casualty of war. Examples of this with Revolutionary War films include The Patriot starring Mel Gibson and Revolution starring Al Pacino. In fact, many war films play fast and loose with the truth because they focus on the human interaction of war rather than the events. Private Ryan was never saved but there were families that lost numbers of sons during World War II.[3]

Hollywood’s instinct to change things isn’t limited to history. One of the categories of the Oscars is “Best Adapted Screenplay.” In transferring a book or play to screen, an adaptation can be so ‘adapted’ that the underlying work is barely recognizable. So filmmakers have no particular allegiance to accurate history. An interesting experiment might be to give a writer the ten episodic scripts of Turn and ask for ten new scripts, research permitted. It wouldn’t be surprising if the results were closer to accurate history than not.

For this article, the debate question might be, “Is it better to portray the people, places and events of history in media, fictionalized to some extent, or leave historical accuracy to the historians?”

Taking into account the natural inclination of entertainment creators to make good entertainment and to focus on the lives of the participants in a television drama, let’s take a look at “Turn” now that all ten episodes are available.

Anna Strong (Heather Lind) and Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) - TURN Season 1, Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Anna Strong (Heather Lind) and Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) – TURN Season 1, Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

As a series, Turn provides cliffhangers galore. Dramatic tension is everywhere in the series: the growing romantic relationship between Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong and his wife’s discovery of it; the political conflict between Woodhull and his father; the leadership philosophies of Major Richard Hewlett and John Graves Simcoe; Loyalist vs Patriot in Setauket, even Benjamin Tallmadge and Woodhull in the early episodes. Most of all, from the first to the tenth episode, Craig Silverstein wrote a compelling drama that should hold any viewer after the pilot episode.

As the episodes are premiered, the storyline builds to climactic moments and future dangers are presaged by current actions. The series excels in capturing the human dimension, vividly conveying the risks and consequences of spying. As General Heath said in referring to Major John André’s ultimate fate, “…it must be remembered that he who consents to become a spy, when he sets out, has by allusion a halter put round his neck, and that… if he be taken, the other end of the halter is speedily made fast to a gallows.”[4] Woodhull notes the punishment that would await him if he were to be revealed as a spy.

As the series continues, Woodhull becomes increasingly involved in clandestine activity, passing information to Caleb Brewster who sails it across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, travelling to and from British-occupied New York for first-hand information and making a narrow escape by a militia man-turned highwayman. At the series’ conclusion, Woodhull’s wife discovers his code book but we’re not certain what she’ll do. The series is also at its best in depicting neighbor against neighbor in the little village, supporting the view of certain scholars that the Revolution was America’s first civil war.

Woodhull’s anxiety is well portrayed by Jamie Bell. The nefarious John Graves Simcoe played by Samuel Roukin also deserves special mention as the putative villain. In fact, one could hardly dispute the able casting that vividly colors the characters in the persons of Anna Strong (Heather Lind), Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall), Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally), Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), John André (J. J. Feild), Robert Rogers (Angus MacFadyen), Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman) and even George Washington (Ian Kahn). Each episode has a main story (e.g. Woodhull’s recruitment, Simcoe’s capture, Washington’s engagement of Tallmadge to form the spy ring, etc.) while the other actions in an episode continue to propel the story forward. As far as setting, locations and costumes, the series creates a realistic picture of what Setauket, (New) York Island and their environs may have looked like. Likewise, the use of the gravestones as a barricade, conditions on a prison ship and the lavish life that high-ranking British officers experienced are accurately portrayed. On a macro level, the series succeeds as well written, directed, acted and produced television entertainment, worthy of a second season.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Notwithstanding the entertaining television, certain historians (professional and amateur) make their points about the historical accuracy of the series. Some blunders are worse than others, such as suggesting that the spy effort contributed to Washington’s success at Trenton or that John André was the British spymaster in 1776 (and wore a peculiar white braid) or that British regulars and a British commander manned the Setauket garrison. Criticisms can be made about the historical accuracy of the series, from errors in nit-picky details to inexcusable whoppers, and the questionable conjecture woven in throughout the story line. Whether or not the Woodhull baby wore knickers or the wine glass Major Hewlett used was incorrect are legitimate gripes, but they surely belong at the nit-picking extreme. Anna Strong’s role, on the other hand, is one of those whoppers that the creators implemented because they wanted an historical character who was Woodhull’s contemporary and a Patriot ready to help enlist Woodhull in espionage. But that’s about where the accuracy ends. She was ten years older than Woodhull (age 36 in 1776), married to a judge, not a tavern owner, and mother to six children. Turn obviously wanted a simmering to boiling over love interest with a married man to provide another incentive to spy besides sympathy for the Cause. Turn makes her a noteworthy cougar of the American Revolution. But, hey, someone had to hang up those black petticoats as signals for the Patriots. Also inaccurate is Robert Rogers’ role in freeing Anna’s husband from prison instead of the historical fact of Anna managing it.[5] Why they put her husband on a prison ship rather than in an old sugar warehouse where he actually was held prisoner seems like a gratuitous (but nit-picking) inaccuracy. Another whopper would have to be the role of Richard Woodhull. Contrary to his Loyalist leaning and economic well-being in the series, he lived a modest life and remained a Patriot, even being beaten at one point by the British. Finally, the young Woodhull remained unmarried until 1781 so Mary’s role is completely fabricated.[6]

As to events portrayed in the series like the appointment of John André as spymaster for the British, Caleb Brewster’s Long Island Sound whale boating or Abraham’s initiation into espionage, none occurred in 1776. The only noteworthy spy-related event that year was the capture and summary hanging of Nathan Hale. Simcoe wasn’t captured in 1776 Connecticut either, the Culper Ring wasn’t even formed until later and the Battle of Setauket in 1777 pitted the Continental troops (not led by Tallmadge) against Loyalist defenders led by Major Hewlett, an American Loyalist. There were no redcoats in sight. Perhaps more than the ersatz events, the characterizations of the principal characters can make a history student cringe. Simcoe is just one example. There is no evidence that Simcoe even served in Setauket, yet the producers needed a name to go with the sardonic character. The real Simcoe, a British regular, not a Provincial, was a successful officer who later rose to become the Governor of Upper Canada. André is more subtle a mischaracterization. He’s shown to be a well-educated, literary fellow—a polished officer and a gentleman—consistent with the facts, but he wasn’t in New York in 1776. If he was practicing his literary and drawing skills at the time it was as a prisoner of war in Pennsylvania. As to his little white braid, one would have to query the producers—no graphic images show it and no text describes it. He wasn’t appointed his spymaster role until April 1779, just in time to begin the conspiracy that would eventually seal his fate.[7] So with all the inaccuracy, is the series worth the effort? The answer would have to be ‘yes.’ Even critics of the series’ accuracy acknowledge that “if the national audience reached by the program becomes “turned” on to the American Revolution and learns of the role played by Setauket and its Patriots to achieve victory, it seems churlish to quibble.”[8]. This same critic also pointed out the weaknesses in the best-selling book, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.[9] Nevertheless, the critic went on to write “we should be grateful to Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger for writing and promoting a book that will capture the public’s imagination while bringing the story of the Culper Spy Ring to a nationwide audience.”[10] This sentiment is also echoed by some of those commenting on the Journal of the American Revolution and elsewhere.

There will, in the end, be two types of viewers of Turn: those that seek more information about series content and those who don’t. As to the latter, should we be concerned? They’re either already expert in the subject matter or are content in being entertained in the same way that any other movie or series entertains. The other is the viewer whose curiosity is stimulated by the series and begins or continues an interest in the American Revolution. In the process, those inaccuracies will fade as a true knowledge of people, place and events supplants them

As Walt Disney asserted at the end of one of his movies, “curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” That’s the role of historians as it pertains to the past. The never ending quest for undiscovered or unread primary sources, new interpretations of previous events or events not well covered, the exploration into the strengths and weaknesses of notable historical figures, the debunking of myths and a greater sensitivity to those who did not write the first works (African Americans and women, to name just two) keep publishers, big and small, active in making new works available.

It’s likely that films such as Amistad and 12 Years a Slave heightened interest in the institution of slavery in America in the same way that Flags of Our Fathers and Saving Private Ryan rekindled interest in World War II. All were based upon or inspired by real events, but all were fictionalized. That’s what keeps them from being referred to as documentaries. It’s also been announced that a new dramatic mini-series entitled Sons of Liberty will be shooting this summer and airing on History Channel.

If Turn’s enjoyable presentation, accurate or not, provokes curiosity to know more about the people, places and events from responsible historical books, articles and documentaries, isn’t that a win-win for all?

 


[1] Michael Schellhammer, “AMC’s ‘Turn’: Everything Historians Need To Know,” April 1, 2014, Journal of the American Revolution, http://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/amc-turn-everything-historians-need-to-know/

[2] Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, “AMC’s ‘Turn’: Lively Fiction, But Tenuous Connections to Fact.” The NY History Blog, June 5, 2014. http://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2014/06/05/amcs-turn-lively-fiction-but-tenuous-connections-to-fact/, accessed June 14, 2014

[3] Borgstrum Brothers of Salt Lake City, UT and the Sullivan Brothers of Waterloo, IA lost four and five brothers, respectively.

[4] Heath’s Memoirs of the American War, Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. (New York: A. Wessels Company, 1904), reprinted from William Heath, Memoirs of Major-General Heath, (Boston: I. Thomas and A. T. Andrés, 1798), 270.

[5] Kaplan, Turn.

[6] Kaplan, Turn.

[7] For a well-written blog about the series, see Rachel Smith’s “TURИ to a Historian” http://spycurious.wordpress.com/. Ms. Smith is an historical consultant at the Office of the Connecticut State Historian at the University of Connecticut

[8] Kaplan, Turn.

[9] Brian Kilmeade is a co-anchor of Fox and Friends on Fox News Channel, appears on other Fox News Channel shows as a pundit and has his own talk-radio show.

[10] Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, “Fact And Fiction In Brian Kilmeade’s ‘Secret Six’,” The New York History Blog, June 14, 2014, http://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2014/06/14/fact-and-fiction-in-brian-kilmeades-secret-six/ accessed June 14, 2014.

 

Steven Paul Mark

Steven Paul Mark grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and now lives in New York City and Kingston. He graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. His interest in the American Revolution dates to his seventh grade social studies teacher who made the people, places and events of Revolutionary New York come alive. By day, he’s a mild-mannered entertainment lawyer able to make deals in a single bound, with three kids, two grandchildren and one great partner. He's also the author of the eco-thriller DRIFT.

39 Comments

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Mike Barbieri

    All’s I can say to SPM’s comments is a hardy, “Yup!” I’ve been a reenactor/historian (or is it historian/reenactor) for decades and have seen the same debate many times–particularly when the visual arts (tv, movies, magazines, video games, etc) comes out with something. Sure, there are a lot of customers for those venues who, sadly, simply accept what is presented as factual but, each and every time, the curiosity of a few folks is ignited and they go on to explore the period in more detail. They quickly discover many of the inaccuracies on their own and expand their own critical thinking skills. With luck, they become contributors to the study of the period. How many readers of and contributors to this site had their first spark of interest kindled by “Daniel Boone” or “Davy Crockett” on tv, or “Johnny Tremain,” “Barry Lyndon,” “Sweet Liberty,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” or even “The Patriot” (spit) in the theater. I’ve lost count how many folks in the reenactment hobby credit their interest to one of those products and most of those continue to do research into some particular aspect of the period. History–particularly that of our period of concentration–is little appreciated in our society. We should be happy accepting anything that prompts an expansion of interest.

    • Reply August 5, 2014

      Twistification

      “We should be happy accepting anything that prompts an expansion of interest.”
      Totally agree Mike. My interest was sparked by Empire Total War (video game) and Napoleon Podcasts. From there my interests spread to books and even musket shooting on weekends.

      I’m not really into gotcha critiques of historically based entertainment, however I do believe that sticking to historical facts–even though it is a bit more challenging to the writer–makes for more compelling drama and does a greater service to the viewer.

      I am also waiting for that big budget property that accurately portrays the size and scope of 18th and early 19th century battles.

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Thomas Verenna

    I think you misunderstand the problem, in my humble opinion; the issue isn’t that the show is ‘historical fiction’, but that it portrays itself as ‘historical’ at all. Why not just have a show without calling itself ‘historical’? Let me explain why this is a problem.

    When I was younger, I first saw the movie, The Patriot. Now, many of us now know just how terrible this movie is. Not only is it historically inaccurate with every scene, but the way it portrays people, events, battles, the social situation of the time, is warping to viewers. It gives a very poor impression of the Revolutionary period in general. Worse, when the British and Loyalist dragoons and regulars burn down the church with all those people inside, it creates a situation of ‘othering’, wherein the British look more like Nazi SS soldiers than 18th Century veterans.

    But for me, at age 16, it dramatically altered my impression of the war. It took years to remove the stigma and pseudo-facts from my mind. Who knows how many might even still linger. In fact, the reason why movies and television are so successful as mediums for education is because the sensory impact of graphics, sound, and emotional sensation are more likely to stick with someone than words on a page. This is why movies like The Patriot, for all its errors and sundry events, will influence millions more people than an academic book on the same subject matter ever will.

    That is terrifying. And there are implications beyond that that are troubling.

    Mel Gibson’s character freed his slaves, and thus the movie gives a very soft look at that subject; in fact it warps it. It doesn’t take into account the struggles and hardships of men and women and children of African descent in the South during the war. Instead of demonstrating just how eager many slaves were to leave and fight for the British because they were freed if they did so, it shows Mel Gibson’s paid servants (who are all men and women of African descent–not a single white person among them) seeking to avoid service with the British at all cost! Even under penalty of death. It’s a little absurd. And yet this visual exposition will give a lot of people a false impression about the troubles of slavery at the time; more so than even the founders’ own words on the subject. Indeed, when a politician says (as some have recently) that people of color actually enjoyed being slaves in the South, or something as horrific and to that effect, they might very well be imagining this movie.

    Turn isn’t The Patriot, I know. And Turn does a better job than Gibson and others. But it isn’t as good as it could be; and there is still a lot of ‘othering’ happening and attempts to isolate the British (like the Rangers, Simcoe, etc…) as these evil, malicious people who only have the subjugation and slaughter of Americans on their minds. It ignores some of the same traits found in the patriots of the period.

    Are there ways around this? I hope so. It would be nice though if the writers and producers made an effort to read the history before making decisions because history is so much more fascinating and awesome than whatever they can come up with. Or, better yet–and this is what I think would make everyone happy–release a second broadcast mid-season that is just historians (not producers, not politicians, not pundits–actual historians) talking about the *history* behind the show. And specifically address the things that producers changed, or the items that aren’t historically accurate, or the social setting which was adjusted to make it more anachronistic.

    But to assume that no harm comes from labeling fiction as history is a little naive in my humble opinion. I’ve watched the effects of fiction warp America’s views of the past. It’s troubling, and dangerous, and has consequences. To dissolve the truth in place of ratings is no different than wiping history’s chalk from the slate entirely.

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      Duane Truitt

      Thomas – It sounds from your comment that your difficulty was in expecting absolute “truth” from any commercial film or television production, and that you were shocked to learn the truth after your innocent expectations at 16 years of age were dashed … by the hard realization that “Patriot” didn’t give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And shockingly, that it carried a point of view. And now you believe that a strongly pro-American treatment of a part of the history of our Revolutionary War somehow creates a collective social harm. I disagree.

      Welcome to growing up and the necessary acquisition of healthy natural skepticism. We all have to go through the same process, sooner or later … it doesn’t matter if the stories of our youth were passed on via the classroom, textbooks, Hollywood, cable TV, the comic books, the internet, or whatever source. I would hope that by now you realize that even professional, peer-reviewed history publications are inevitably contaminated with the author’s and publishers’ own agendas and prejudices, both lies included, and truth excluded.

      Every publication has a point of view that distorts “history”, some more than others. For every film producer like Mel Gibson today, there are a thousand Howard Zinns in academia, and Robert Altmans in Hollywood, all proselytizing for their anti-American deconstructionist views. The balance in popular media and academia is decidedly on the anti-side, at least since the 1950s.

      The truth is, nothing on film or in print is to be believed wholly without critical appraisal – if the objective is nothing but the truth. We must each do our own research and make up our own minds, or we are simply being led.

      As to the entertainment value of historically-based drama, it is clear that showing real human flesh and blood characters in more or less historically-accurate settings and dramatic plots does far more to make history seem real to viewers than any dry academic tome could ever possibly hope to achieve with its readers. If there were no historic drama, with entertaining actors and story lines to incite human interest, then far less popular interest in actual historic research and understanding would be the inevitable result.

      Even the much-despised “Patriot” production, though obviously “over the top” in several of the scenes depicted, still conveyed more accurate knowledge and understanding of the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas than 95% of the public would ever acquire on their own volition. Yes, I said accurate, despite some obvious inaccuracies.

      The film accurately portrayed how the American militia proved mostly ineffective and usually dropped their muskets and ran after firing the first volley in set-piece battles against the disciplined Brit Army. It showed how the Revolutionaries adapted guerilla tactics, highly accurate long distance fire from rifled muskets, and used the raw terrain to their advantage in hit and run attacks on the Brits. It also portrayed how arrogant and un-adaptable were the British redcoats in the American war. The film more or less accurately showed how perceptive American generals such as Nathaniel Green and Daniel Morgan were able to turn the Americans’ own weakness (the militias), and the arrogance and overconfidence of Brit field officers like Banastre Tarleton and senior generals like Lord Cornwallis, against the redcoats in later victories such as at Cowpens and eventually at Yorktown.

      Again – I ask – where would the average twenty-first century American learn such things on their own, if not for a film like Patriot, or in a series like Turn? Certainly not in public schools, which provide only the barest treatment of such events minus any actual understanding … nor in most modern collegiate liberal arts curricula where the typical far- left wing professors are mostly bent on defaming the founders and Revolutionaries as nothing but selfish bloodthirsty slaveowners who led an essentially evil and corrupt revolution. If a few historical inaccuracies creep into a popular dramatization with a pro-American point of view, the overall impact of a handful of films like Patriot or series like Turn is still positive.

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Thomas Verenna

        You actually completely missed the point of my entire explanation of the argument. This isn’t about all or nothing; it’s about integrity and honesty. Please read more carefully my comment.

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Thomas Verenna

        Also I don’t appreciate your comment that “most modern collegiate liberal arts curricula” are instructed by “far- left wing professors are mostly bent on defaming the founders and Revolutionaries as nothing but selfish bloodthirsty slaveowners who led an essentially evil and corrupt revolution.”

        None of my professors, even the left-leaning ones, were like this and I went to Rutgers (one of the top research institutions in the country–and one of the oldest); and it would do you well to remember that many contributors here went to or themselves teach at liberal arts schools. Your words, spoken like someone who has zero experience in an academic or collegiate environment, read more like an attempt to derail this thread with political trolling and should be noted by the administrators of the site.

        Frankly, if your argument is that ‘education in history at college’ = bad and yet ‘education by movie or television = good’, I’m not sure we’re going to agree much on anything.

        • Reply August 4, 2014

          Duane Truitt

          You should go back and read the mission statement for this website.

          Here is a clue for you: it is not to promote or protect the privileges of the self-appointed collegiate academics and their often-distorted and polemical views of history.

          Thankfully, history does not belong to the professional historians with leftist union cards who populate most college campuses – it belongs to all who would make any effort to learn on their own.

          And then you say the point of your comment was about integrity and honesty, yet your words say otherwise. You sound positively offended that a film like Patriot or a series like Turn doesn’t fit your point of view of history, and that such points of view do harm to society. That different people have different opinions and point of views is the point of discussing history – since one man’s fact is another man’s harangue. That is my point.

          • August 4, 2014

            Thomas Verenna

            The move The Patriot isn’t accurate. Period. It has nothing to do with ‘points of view’. We have historical records, and the movie doesn’t match those records. Not in concept, not in its portrayal of the British and American soldiers, not in the way it presents the social troubles of the time. It is not historical fiction, but fantasy. This isn’t opinion. That you refuse to acknowledge this is only more evidence that you have an agenda to troll this site–as is clear from your repeated political comments. And I have not the patience or the time to indulge you on your endeavor to do so.

            Good day.

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Thomas Verenna

        Goodness, and how did I miss this comment?

        “It showed how the Revolutionaries adapted guerilla tactics, highly accurate long distance fire from rifled muskets, and used the raw terrain to their advantage in hit and run attacks on the Brits. It also portrayed how arrogant and un-adaptable were the British redcoats in the American war.”

        You have effectually demonstrated why the movie The Patriot (and shows like Turn) fail to educate people. These ‘accurate portrayals’ you list are actually pretty wrong.

        Guerrilla tactics were not even a major part of the war; Americans opted to fight traditionally nearly all the time. Especially the militia–many who utilized the same Manual of Arms used by the rest of the infantry–though they were far less likely to be viable at maintaining discipline (as the records show). The guy who wrote the book on these tactics was fighting with the British (you know, the guy known as Robert Rogers who led Rogers’ Rangers?

        If anything, the Americans were slow to catch up to the tactics of the British Rangers (which is why the militia were caught off guard by Butler’s Rangers and the Shawnee at Wyoming in the first place). Also, the most useful gun wasn’t the standard rifle at all, but Ferguson’s breach-loading rifle (used by the British).

        Speaking of tactics that far outpaced the Americans–I would say the attack on Paoli earns the British a lot of points.

        The notion that the British were “arrogant” and “un-adaptable” is precisely the effect that fictional movies and television have on people. You’ve adequately proved my entire thesis against such inaccurate programs correct.

        • Reply August 4, 2014

          Duane Truitt

          There is nothing that I can say back to you that wouldn’t come across as snark, which is not the mission of this website.

          Suffice it to say that you are absolutely wrong.

          • August 4, 2014

            Mike Barbieri

            “It showed how the Revolutionaries adapted guerilla tactics, highly accurate long distance fire from rifled muskets, and used the raw terrain to their advantage in hit and run attacks on the Brits. It also portrayed how arrogant and un-adaptable were the British redcoats in the American war.”

            Let’s take the conversation in a more historical direction. While you don’t say it, Duane, I assume you are saying the above tactics are why the Americans proved victorious in the war. I happen to agree with most of Tom’s comments regarding the statements but I certainly am willing to listen to an opposing view. However, for me to listen, that view has to backed up with primary source documentation. With that in mind, Duane, offer up your sources for what you say.

          • August 4, 2014

            Jimmy Dick

            Duane,
            You might want to brush up on your history. Matthew Spring’s excellent work on the British Army operations in North America would be a good place to start. It is titled With Zeal and Bayonets Only.

            You really should reconsider your comments about colleges and historians because they actually do know what they’re talking about in most cases. It is not their fault they take positions you do not like. It is because the actual history of this country tends to work along what is termed liberal lines. That’s what happens when you work with facts.

    • As a Rev War reenactor on Long Island doing a lot of local events, we have spent every event since this show started, trying to undo the mis-history that the show conveys. People watching believe it is all true. They come to events asking and commenting about what they saw in the show. Yes, the show’s intent is entertainment – then why not have changed the names of the characters and not presented this fiction as history. Yes, it is not a documentary but that does not mean the writers have to put real people of the past into situations that never happened – and defame them in the process.

      As much as The Patriot presented its own take on the history of the Revolution in the South, there were no real names used, there were identifiable likenesses to some of the characters, but it was clear that it was an entertainment of fiction. Here with Turn we have the show saying here are the real people and this is what they did – and none of it is true except that there were spies on Long Island and these were there names.

      I had been hoping that this should would die after the first season, but no, it is coming back – to present more fiction as truth. And those of us who are on Long Island and care about its factual history, we will have to continue here to try to help people who come and want to talk about Turn understand that it is all fiction. is it good that they are asking? In a way yes, but it is very difficult to convince people of the truth, because after all they saw this on television and the show says it is the truth! So sad!

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Gary Shattuck

        … and which gets back to the question at hand, just exactly what is the purported worth of advancing falsehoods in the pursuit of viewers at the expense of historical accuracy? You have answered that question tenfold. Thank you for your observations of the untoward havoc all this visits on an unsuspecting, uneducated public that belittles the lives of those that went before. A travesty, what more can be said.

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Jim "Zak" Szakmary

    I understand that next season this soap opera will be retitled, “As the world TURИs.”

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Gary Shattuck

    Tom,

    You never get a second chance to make a first impression and your recitations of reasons why having to undo those first impressions, whether inflicted intentionally or out of mistake, can be so detrimental to one’s understanding history. Who among us has not had to “unlearn” misperceptions and then realign our understandings of the times because of prior misdirection(s). It would be so much easier for all concerned if it was just done correctly in the first place. Well done description of an under appreciated aspect of the problem.

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      Thomas Verenna

      Thanks Gary,

      Absolutely right on. Glad my point was made clearly!

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Ken daigler

    I also agree with SPM’s conclusion that while TURN is historical fiction, it stimulates an interest in the period that is worth while, and that probably will encourage some to a more factual look at the details.
    Also, conducting human intelligence operations effectively is actually quite disciplined and slow paced, and thus rather boring to read about. And, records of Revolutionary War spying contain very little personality information (vice biographic information, which also tends to be sparse for most) on the agents so making them interesting to the general public is difficult to say the least. This is probably why historical fiction is more read than histories – the character development is better.
    .

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Hugh T. Harrington

    I don’t waste my time watching soap operas…why in the world should I waste my time watching Turn? Why should anyone?

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      John Johnson

      Because it’s fun?

      Really isn’t that the reason we watch any tv shows or movies?

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      Jimmy Dick

      I teach a film history class and have to choose 12 films each semester to cover the Great Depression to today. It is not as easy as you think because no film is 100% historically accurate. I actually threw out all the war movies because they usually run in two lines of propaganda for or against the war not to mention all the inaccuracies that accompany the film. Therefore I went with social history as the main thrust of the class. That allows me to select fictional movies that were actually filmed in the time period or close to it for some films in showing how society and culture were as seen by people in that time. I also get to select films made 30 or 40 years after the time period so we can compare and contrast how we reconstruct the past via film.

      It really allows the students to use some historical analysis on social history and question how the past is remembered. If I were to teach this class using earlier periods of American history it would be much more difficult because we would not have films from the time periods in question. Therefore all films would be reconstructions of the past and as a result never accurate. The same goes for television series.

      We should remember that television has one purpose. It is meant to make money for the company broadcasting content to your TV. That means ratings. A show has to tell a story that generates a reaction conducive to as large an audience as possible. It then has to sustain that audience over a set period of time for multiple seasons. Real history just does not work that way.

      A good lesson would be the show MASH. It was watched by a large audience (me for many shows) over a long period of time (11 seasons?) which actually was longer than the actual period of time it covered. Was it accurate? Not at all. It wasn’t meant to be. It was a comedy. That’s probably why it was watched by so many for so long.

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Christian McBurney

    “I also agree with SPM’s conclusion that while TURN is historical fiction, it stimulates an interest in the period that is worth while, and that probably will encourage some to a more factual look at the details.” Count me in as agreeing to this too.

    I actually thought that some episodes were good entertainment, and the one on the townspeople having to decide whether to use the gravestones of their ancestors to bolster British defenses was quite riveting. My biggest complaint is the portrayal of Simcoe as a quasi-Nazi, which was also my biggest complaint of Tarleton as portrayed in Patriot. Moviemakers should learn that they don’t need to go over the top to make a point or generate emotion. Some subtlety can work too.

    I have determined that a few historical facts claimed by Alexander Rose, and Kilmeade and Yeager, regarding the Culper spy ring are not accurate either. I will be publishing something on that topic in an upcoming article in the Journal.

    Thanks for the article, Steve! And this is a good discussion to have.

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Wayne Lynch

    Thomas,
    Of course I don’t mean to pick on you or maintain a conversation that might be better off asleep, but, in my opinion, The Patriot was a fabulous movie. Incredibly inspiring and not at all so inaccurate as you might indicate in your post. The British officers are given a number of faces. Tavington represents severity and the worst of the lot. Naturally, Huck, Brown, Grierson, Wemyss, or Tarleton come to mind. There is the officer Tavington requires to do his evil deeds even though he obviously finds it distasteful. And, then there is Cornwallis who is correctly pictured as one who flip-flops between civility and severity in his treatment of the Whigs. The Patriots are a bit rosier than they should be but, even then, the movie has examples of hard men who don’t mind killing a few British prisoners when the opening arises. Sure, Mel Gibson tries to stop them, but, isn’t he an amalgam of Morgan, Pickens, and Marion? All three of whom can historically be viewed as trying to restrain their men from such bad behavior.

    And, of course we have the famous ‘burning of the church’. Is it really that far away from the worst acts committed by British/Loyalists in the southern campaigns? Are you aware that, following their close call with defeat at the 1st siege of Augusta, Brown and Grierson hung thirteen men, burned out over 100 Whig farms, and took civilian hostages who were held for several months as security for good behavior? This was reprisal for resisting British occupation and was applauded by Governor Wright. In the movie, Tavington did all the reprisal in a single act, the burning of the Church. Which, just to jog my memory a bit, didn’t Major Wemyss burn down a Presbyterian Church while making some kind of famous anti-Presbyterian remark? Something tells me there are a number of anti-Presbyterian acts committed by Huck before his famous comeuppance. 

    So, in the end, are these movie characters all that far removed from reality? As one who frequently researches and documents murders and depravations in the southern campaigns, I am not really all that shocked by the character portrayals in The Patriot.

    I’m gonna go ahead and give you the slave issue. Not realistic to have Benjamin Martin sharecropping his farm with former slaves that he freed. I’m thinking Mel just couldn’t stand the idea of being a slave owner. On the other hand, the battles presented seemed to be Camden and Cowpens. I think the sequences generally conform to the battles as I read about them. I’m sure there are some differences but not really a bad rendition of what happened at each.

    Now, about the use of guerilla tactics in the south, I would point to late March of 1781. At that time the Brigadier of Militia, Andrew Pickens sent Elijah Clarke, James McCall and their respective ‘refugee’ regiments back to Georgia and the Long Cane District of South Carolina. One pensioner remembers his orders included killing all the Tories ‘that needed killing’. In the weeks that followed, Clarke and McCall both got sick and stayed on the sidelines. Instead, they sent men in 10 to 20 man groups across the backcountry causing all sorts of distress to the residents and GA militia. All the sudden militia colonels started popping up in small regiments, Leroy Hammond, McKay, Harden, Jackson. They operated independently, without any pitched battles and invested the entire Augusta and Wilkes county areas such that the British were essentially besieged in Augusta for several weeks prior to Lee and Pickens coming around to formalize the siege and take charge.

    So, while I agree that Greene’s battles did not really fall into the description of ‘hit and run’, many of the others did. Even King’s Mountain, in all its glory, was a large hit and run operation.

    • Reply August 5, 2014

      Thomas Verenna

      First, thanks for your carefully worded response. You are entitled to your own opinion. No one is suggesting you aren’t. I’d like to explain why I disagree.

      “Incredibly inspiring and not at all so inaccurate as you might indicate in your post.”

      What is inspiring about a Tory father who goes on a blood-lust vendetta against an officer? Might I add he slaughters British regulars–in the most brutal fashion imaginable–and this comes right after the producers decided they would have these regulars massacre a whole house full of Continental wounded (which never happened). Nothing about his motives for becoming “a patriot” is inspiring and his candid ‘shoot first, ask questions later’, ‘hiding behind brush and trees’ attitude is found more in the Bush of Vietnam than in Revolutionary South Carolina.

      “The British officers are given a number of faces. Tavington represents severity and the worst of the lot. Naturally, Huck, Brown, Grierson, Wemyss, or Tarleton come to mind.”

      And none of these are accurate portrayals. At all. The British officers, save for Tavington, are all presented as emasculated pansies who carry swords (which, by the way, is inaccurate since officers carried fusils), and that they flick a wrist when shot (after giving a look of–”the nerve of that man for shooting up my pretty coat”). Also the othering that happens in this film is horrible. It is pure xenophobia on a very basic level. The foreigners (the British) do all the wrong and commit all the atrocities while Gibson’s character gets away with everything under the grounds that it’s justifiable because he’s killing foreigners, clearly.

      “There is the officer Tavington requires to do his evil deeds even though he obviously finds it distasteful. And, then there is Cornwallis who is correctly pictured as one who flip-flops between civility and severity in his treatment of the Whigs.”

      See my earlier comments. Any similarity these fictional portrayals have to their historical counterparts is entirely coincidental.

      “The Patriots are a bit rosier than they should be but, even then, the movie has examples of hard men who don’t mind killing a few British prisoners when the opening arises. Sure, Mel Gibson tries to stop them, but, isn’t he an amalgam of Morgan, Pickens, and Marion? All three of whom can historically be viewed as trying to restrain their men from such bad behavior.”

      You’re stretching.

      “And, of course we have the famous ‘burning of the church’. Is it really that far away from the worst acts committed by British/Loyalists in the southern campaigns?”

      Seriously? Give me one example where the British massacred an entire village of women and children and men for the fun of it. Oh, you can’t? Because it never happened? That’s what I thought.

      The burning of the church is the German directors’ way of demonstrating that ‘othering’ factor again, except he depicts the British as the Waffen SS of the Nazi Third Reich going into towns and slaughtering whole communities. Including the most infamous massacre of them all–one eerily similar to the church burning–Oradour sur Glane.

      In fact, I tend to agree with this article (read after I already caught the similarities): http://www.salon.com/2000/07/03/patriot_3/

      The directors failed so much at the historical aspect because they weren’t aiming to make a movie about the American Revolution at all–but a movie about Nazi Germany. The intertextuality is pretty apparent to anyone who knows anything about the periods.

      But to directly answer your question, no. No, the burning and massacring of an entire village of people is nowhere near historically representative of the British in the actual Southern Campaign, because despite their taking prisoners and holding people captive, the British never mercilessly slaughtered civilians because they aren’t brutal Nazi’s on the path for the conquest of the Western world.

      But let’s talk about some of the many inaccuracies:

      1) Mel Gibson would not have been a patriot (by his own admission, he was disaffected with the cause and refused to associate)

      2) Gibson’s character would have been disarmed in 1776 through the ordinance laid out by the South Carolina Provincial Congress and he would have also likely been detained.

      3) Speaking of which we see none of the atrocities committed against Tory civilians (the trashing of their homes and property, the high taxes and property fines, the suspicious looks–Gibson’s character would have been subject to these actions because he refused to vote with the patriots and he would have also lost his seat because Tories were not given the right to hold office, to vote, etc… in a Committee. This is a general list (and very incomplete):

      http://www.toriesfightingfortheking.com/Punishing.htm

      4) Where are the slave patrols?

      5) Where are the Loyalist regiments?

      6) Where are the men of African descent fighting for the British and Tory units? (Oh wait, I forgot–all the people of color are happy slaves in this movie and aren’t the slightest bit inclined to fight for the British–which is a complete fantasy since history shows us otherwise).

      I could go on, but you get the point. The movie is incredibly historically inept–and Gibson’s famous line about dealing with trading tyrants 3,000 miles away with tyrants 3 miles away completely misses the mark on ‘taxation without representation’ (you know, one of the causes of the war) and firmly plants him as someone who can not be considered a patriot by 18th century America standards.

      The othering, the way the British are shown as Brutal murderers vs the compassionate Americans who reign themselves in is inaccurate (look up the Gnaddenhutt Massacre or the Sullivan Expedition), the tactics that are demonstrated are erroneous; it’s entirely one sided.

      And you call this movie ‘inspiring’ but the central character–someone who would have been thrown in jail and had his property stripped from him, having been disarmed and dislodged from the assembly because of his Tory leanings–isn’t motivated by patriotism at all, but a thirst for vengeance because of the death of one of his sons (despite the fact that he is completely fine putting his other children in harms way and handing them muskets to kill redcoats and get shot at–a complete failure as a parent).

      But again, you have the right to your own opinions about the movie. I can see how the emotional ride the movie takes might get someone to believe their watching something ‘inspiring’ and ‘accurate’, but facts are stubborn things. They aren’t driven by how much we want to believe in something. They just exist. A little critical thinking and five minutes of research can demonstrate what this movie actually is–a sloppy attempt to throw contemporary, post-WW2 anachronisms into the American Revolution.

  • Reply August 4, 2014

    Mike Schellhammer

    I support SPM’s argument and conclusion.

    TURN disappointed me. After interviewing the producer and learning that Alexander Rose was an important contributed to the scripts, I looked forward to a more faithful, once could say “historically accurate” portrayal of the Culper Ring.

    But as I noted in one of the comments exchanges to my original review, the story arc of the Culper Ring did not follow a course that would have made an interesting series. So any disappointment was based on my own expectations. I think the series writers got enough right to convey the spirit of the times and the events, and that’s better than plenty of things on TV. And since it’s the only show on about the Revolution, I’m a beggar, so I won’t be a chooser.

    I wish the show could have stayed truer to the Culper story without straying as far from facts as it did. But it didn’t, and at least the companion website on the AMC page offers more background for those who want to read more.

    A few friends and associates of mine watched the entire season and loved it. We spoke about the show often, and I pointed out what the show got right and wrong. They still watched, will watch season two, and they’re reading up on the Culper Ring (they read my companion piece on the real Abraham Woodhull and still enjoyed the show). That’s more interest than they had in the Revolution prior to the show. I count that as a good thing.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    steven paul mark

    I’d be curious to know why Thomas Verenna loves Sleepy Hollow, albeit pointing out many inaccuracies, but doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Turn, which also has inaccuracies, but no ghosts, golems or witches. I stopped watching SH, not because of the glaring historical miscues (far worse, in my opinion than Turn) but I prefer not to watch inaccurate history with the added element of fantasy. We, who contribute to this Journal, are teachers at heart.Series, like Turn, and movies like The Patriot may stimulate further study but they also give us, who watch such entertainment the opportunity, to teach others if the opportunity arises.

    • Reply August 5, 2014

      Thomas Verenna

      The short answer is that it isn’t pretending to be historical fiction. Just fantasy. It would be hard for them to claim it’s historically based, with demons and monsters and witches flying around–don’t you think? ;-)

      That’s the distinction.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    John Pearson

    I still like Turn! The entire TV watching community is bereft of ANYTHING regarding the American Revolution! Unless you want to switch to Drums Along the Mohawk – 1940 – Henry Fonda – Claudette Colbert ( which actually is pretty good )! As an avid reader of Colonial and American Revolutionary War history over the last 50 years, I am fully aware of the historical discrepancies/inaccuracies presented by the likes of Hollywood. Yet, just by the existence of these productions, people have been awakened to the fact that these events may have possibly occurred and which in turn have challenged them to ask questions and become interested in history!
    To me, the argument I have been reading about is both silly and a waste of time!
    John Pearson

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    Nicole Williams

    I’ll add my two cents. (I found this website through a post on the DAR social media site).

    I am a history enthusiast and someone who loves Turn. I also realize that most of the story isn’t true at least in how it’s portrayed on television. That’s ok, as it has gotten many people more interested in the Revolution (plus the Turn website is up front about the truth behind the fiction).

    Its historical entertainment, nothing more.
    Count me and my family as entertained! I look forward to Season 2.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    Wayne Lynch

    “The directors failed so much at the historical aspect because they weren’t aiming to make a movie about the American Revolution at all–but a movie about Nazi Germany. The intertextuality is pretty apparent to anyone who knows anything about the periods.

    But to directly answer your question, no. No, the burning and massacring of an entire village of people is nowhere near historically representative of the British in the actual Southern Campaign, because despite their taking prisoners and holding people captive, the British never mercilessly slaughtered civilians because they aren’t brutal Nazi’s on the path for the conquest of the Western world. ”

    Yes, I can see where you might think I was overboard. Sorry to have wasted your time. I shall not engage you again.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    Thomas Verenna

    Not wasting my time at all. You can feel how you want about the movie; I just wanted to make sure you understood the reasons why I disagreed.

    • Reply August 5, 2014

      Wayne Lynch

      And yet you succeeded in communicating so much more.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    John Pearson

    Hey Nicole!
    Touche`! Most young people have very little knowledge of the birth of our country – school curriculum and quality of educational opportunity play a huge role in shaping young peoples lives – my daughter teaches underprivileged kids in the inner city. My daughter thought Turn was pretty good and mentioned that some kids had really liked the show! Regardless of it`s imperfections the series is a wonderful way in which to attract young folks – the ones on the street who can`t even answer who the 1st President was!
    John Pearson

  • Reply August 6, 2014

    Nicole Williams

    Also, I don’t think the overall portrayal of the British forces is that negative in Turn either. Simcoe may be completely incorrect (and perhaps they would have better given that particular character a fictional name to fit his fictional persona) but many people find the British forces in the series to be sympathetic. Andre is portrayed as a gentleman, Hewlett is a prim and proper officer with a fancy for rules and order (having known US military officers, this isn’t exactly inaccurate), so on and so forth. The soldiers who are housed in the series are not portrayed as villains at all, but simple soldiers fighting in their army.

    Turn has a more even handed portrayal of both sides than most any other colonial set series or movie (like The Patriot!).
    (Plus 2 of my ancestors were Tory Loyalists killed at Battle of Shallow Ford. I’m strangely enough, proud of that history as my American “patriot” ancestors!)

  • Reply August 6, 2014

    Mike Barbieri

    I figured I had said my piece and had other things to do so I wouldn’t add anything more to this discussion but … what the hell.

    I just wanted to add that in “The Patriot” the military portrayal from clothing to performance–especially that of the Crown forces–is just horrible. Lots of reenactors showed up for the filming and quickly walked away when the film crew–in particular, the director–flatly rejected their suggestions. The battle that forms the climax of the movie is almost laughable if it didn’t dump a bit more acid into my stomach. Period cannon did not fire exploding shells as shown (howitzers and mortars did but that’s not the type depicted). There is no way the armies marched by lifting their knees so high and stomping their foot down as the Brits do so obviously (for those who believe in a Nazi underpinning to the movie, the Brits actually used a step not unlike the goose-step). Nor did it ever happen that the two lines closed to within a few yards of each other, stood there staring at each other, and then started shooting. And, do you really think the army would follow the orders of some upstart private individual who showed up late to the war when there are regular officers next to him?

    I could go on but won’t get into more details. I like to think that reasonably historic movies are possible. “Glory” is a good example. While it certainly has its problems, its look is well done. Another with problems but a nearly spot-on look is “Gettysburg.” Unlike “The Patriot,” hundreds–if not thousands–of reenactors showed up for the filming and remained. Actors and members of the crew spent time in the camps and made use of the reenactors’ knowledge and equipment with a great end result. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched the fight for Little Round Top and the Confederates forming for Pickett’s Charge. While there are some decent films in the US, the quality goes up if you start looking around at foreign war films but that’s another story.

    In the end, I like David Hackett Fisher’s comment that, “‘The Patriot’ is to history as ‘Godzilla’ is to biology.”

  • Reply October 5, 2014

    Michael Juckiewicz

    I realize I am late to this party, but I am new to this website (and what a fantastic website it is!!!), and was reading the comments for this article and felt inclined to post.

    I am not anything remotely resembling an expert, I’m not a historian…I’m just a casual reader and enjoy fair and open-minded analysis of anything.

    With that in mind, I agree with you Thomas how the over-dramatization and inaccuracies can have a lasting affect on people’s views. There is perhaps nothing more damaging to human civilization than propaganda. However, as someone commenting against black-and-white depictions, “othering”, and the like….your argumentations come across as very one-sided and angry.

    No side of a war is ever 100% right or wrong…and that should extend to discussions like these. Unfortunately, as some here have noted, if a purely factual account of the Culper Spy Ring was presented the show would be very dull and slow-moving. As it is I already find the show to move at a rather slow pace. Have the writers and producers gone too far to the fictional side? Perhaps. Hopefully there is a middle ground somewhere that as we as a society grow more and more sophisticated, our story-telling will become more and more refined and intelligent.

    Side note: For those looking for an interesting perspective on the duality and complexities of right and wrong in war, may I suggest Saints & Soldiers(1 and 2) and Into The White. Neither are ground-breaking cinema, but they attempt to explore the two sides of a conflict.

  • Reply October 17, 2014

    Derek W. Beck

    So I too am a latecomer to this thread, mainly because I just finished watching the show. I think everyone has already spoken well about the big issues, but here’s one I’ve not seen discussed, and perhaps it is nitpicky: the British uniforms.

    I’m not sure what regiment these real people are from, but they mostly all have white facings on their uniforms, which I thought was generally reserved for the British Marines. And was it realistic towards the end of the series, to see the cannon fired by Regulars rather than Artillerymen? I’ve never read of such, though I can imagine in a pinch anyone would give it try if they are being stormed, but surely if they had cannon there they would’ve also had Artillerymen, right?

    One other thought I had, not elsewhere discussed: Geo. Washington’s casting and portrayal: I found this portrayal quite a relief because I thought the rendition of Geo. Washington in “John Adams” was horrible. In “John Adams”, the directors and writers made the inner doubts of Washington as external attributes which made him appear weak. I think this was a failure because most all contemporary accounts of Washington is that he had such an aura about him, and the weakness and doubts we know he held come to mostly by way of his personal diary or his personal letters to trusted confidants. That is, he confided his doubts privately, but apparently had great gravitas outwardly, yet “John Adams” takes the internal weaknesses of Washington and externalized them.

    If my grammar is not particularly smooth in the above, my apologies, for I write this very late at night…

    Derek

    • Reply October 17, 2014

      steven paul mark

      Interesting comments. I note your comment regarding the casting of Washington in the two series, though it would be helpful to see how Turn’s Washington ages, if at all, in the second season. Actually, I enjoyed David Morse’s portrayal in ‘John Adams.’ As to uniforms, your confusion is well-placed. Those pro-British soldiers serving in Setauket, if in any sort of uniform, would have worn the green coats with white-facing of DeLancey’s Brigade, a completely American Loyalist regiment. See http://www.royalprovincial.com/reenactors/groups/2del.shtml.

    • Reply October 20, 2014

      Don N. Hagist

      You’re right that the British uniforms are weakly presented; they’re “generic.”
      White facings (lapels, cuffs and collars) were not reserved for Marines; many British marching regiments had white facings, notably (for the American war) the 17th, 43rd and 47th Regiments of Foot. None of these served in Setauket, of course.

      Delancey’s Brigade, the corps that actually garrisoned Setauket, wore red coats some years and green coats other years; accurately depicting them requires specific knowledge of the year of interest, and we’ve already seen that this show plays fast and loose with the timeline of the war in order to have dramatic effect in each episode and also to tell a running story. Overall, it’s plausible to have Provincial soldiers in red coats, particularly after 1778.

      The officers in the show are all named for real men but in both clothing and personality bear no resemblance to the historical figures. The real Major Hewlet served in a Provincial (Loyalist) regiment; John Graves Simcoe did serve in a British regular regiment (before he took command of the Queen’s Rangers), but not one with white facings.

      You’re correct that it’s unlikely that infantry men would be firing cannons; that work was the purvue of the Royal Artillery in their dark blue coats with red facings. Soldiers from the infantry were often detached to help the artillery, but (probably) only in support roles that required extra manpower such as moving guns.

      My own issue with the uniforms is not with the color but the way that they’re fitted and worn. The uniforms of the era were very utilitarian and functional, but required proper fitting to achive the desired function – snug, well buttoned clothing keeps out the cold and the dust. Loose fitting coats and spatterdashes (gaiters), accoutrements that hang too low and willy-nilly, hats propped this way and that, lose their function and get in the way, not to mention making the men look clownish rather than soldierly. The uniforms used in Turn tell us quickly who is on which side, but they do not convey the standards and training of British and Provincial soldiers.

Leave a Reply


4 − = three