TV: Tim Cavanaugh Reviews AMC’s “Turn”Posted: April 7, 2014
The birth of American espionage gets AMC’s prestige spot
For NRO, Tim Cavanaugh writes: Like Archie Andrews and many other American men who will follow him, Abraham Woodhull has great regard for the blonde, but he lusts for the brunette. Married to porcelain Mary, Abraham nevertheless manages to spend ample time in the presence of smoldering Anna, a childhood friend for whom he still carries a torch. Heroic circumstance, on British-occupied Long Island in the fall of 1776, will put Abraham into close contact with Anna. Anna’s husband in turn languishes in Redcoat custody, leaving her with little choice but to welcome any male support against the masher who has occupied her house, a Malfoyesque English captain.
[The source book, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring is available at Amazon]
We know about these folks, who will form part of the Revolution’s Culper spy ring in AMC’s new Sunday show Turn, in large part thanks to the 2007 book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by National Review alumnus Alexander Rose. In the show’s press materials, Rose praises Turn’s creators for exploring “these very human factors lying at the heart of that titanic clash of nations and ideologies” and for their “creation of an alien and often startling world.”
Much of the storyline described above is invented. Woodhull did not begin his spying career until two years after the start of Turn, and he does not appear to have been the reluctant covert warrior the show depicts. The idea that Anna Strong (Heather Lind) was the unnamed woman in the Culper ring is speculative. The wicked Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) was in reality a colonel in the King’s army, but here he’s reduced in rank. Abraham Woodhull’s marital career, on the other hand, has been advanced: In life he did not marry Mary (Meegan Warner) until 1781; in the show he already has a wife and a toddler. Woodhull’s father does not appear to have been the loyalist the show presents.
These changes all work out well, tightening the personal pressures, giving Woodhull more to worry about, and shaping the basics of history into a plot. TheTurn press materials come in a magnificent collateral package that includes a hardback promotional book with full-color, two-page spreads; a wax-sealed envelope; and an International Spy Museum pamphlet on 18th-century espionage tools, all inside an olde-style hollowed-out false book. (Some unnamed publicist really deserves an industry award.) The enclosed DVD holds only the first episode, which is first-rate.
Woodhull is played by Jamie Bell, who originated the role of Billy Elliot in the eponymous movie and has gone on to an interesting film career. While he’s not a traditional leading-man type (a job here reserved for Seth Numrich, who plays Benjamin Tallmadge, the Culper ring’s connection to George Washington), Bell’s birdish British Isles physiognomy is well suited to the colonial atmosphere. He has a lean and hungry look. And he’s a good actor. Woodhull spends much of the first episode climbing through windows, hiding in barns, furtively rowing across Long Island Sound, and even being subjected (by the Americans!) to an early form of water boarding…(read more)
- AMC’s ‘Turn’: The Loyalists’ Rationale (Exclusive Video) (variety.com)
- AMC’s ‘Turn’ Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Peek (Exclusive Video) (thewrap.com)
- ‘Turn,’ from AMC, review: Standard spy story (sfgate.com)
- AMC’s “Turn” Sneak Peek (scifiandtvtalk.typepad.com)
- AMC show filmed in Central Virginia premieres April 6 (virginiabusiness.com)
- ‘Turn’ provides an updated sense and style of patriotism to the American Revolution (themorningsun.com)
- AMC’s “Turn” – Coming in Spring 2014 (scifiandtvtalk.typepad.com)
- Tune Into Turn (iowntheworld.com)
- Rick Perry, Intellectual (nationalreview.com)