Thursday, October 3, 2013

John Ferling's "Jefferson and Hamilton"

John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark.

Here Ferling dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation:
A movie has been made about Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson in Paris), but none about Alexander Hamilton so far as I know. But is it outlandish to contemplate a movie about their rivalry at the time of the nation’s founding? They were colorful figures and opposites in most respects. They offered competing visions of the shape and character of the new United States. Their intensely partisan struggle polarized the American people in much the same fashion as American politics has been polarized in recent years, and some things that divided them – the size of government, for instance – continue to cause political divisions today.

Jefferson was quiet, reflective, and hated personal confrontation. The perfect actor to portray him would be Colin Firth, who has already played young George VI and Johannes Vermeer. Impetuous Alexander Hamilton dominated every room that he entered, liked nothing better than confrontation, was given to intrigue, and was an inveterate risk taker. Donnie Wahlberg, the tough detective on CBS’s Blue Bloods, a cop who never shrank from defying danger or ducked out on a fight, would be a perfect Hamilton. Besides, it would be worth it just to see him don a powdered wig.

Jefferson’s wife Martha died a dozen years after they married. She was bright, attractive, and polished, but not strong-willed, and by all accounts Jefferson was devoted to her. Scarlett Johansson is the hands-down choice to play Martha. Four years after Martha’s death, while abroad on a diplomatic assignment, Jefferson met the alluring Maria Cosway, well-educated, a renowned artist, and sexually liberated, a woman unlike any that Jefferson had ever encountered. Carey Mulligan, English like Maria and most recently the fetching Daisy in The Great Gatsby, would be an ideal choice for playing her. On his return from Paris, Jefferson commenced a lengthy intimate relationship with Sally Hemings, one his slaves who was described by many witnesses as extraordinarily attractive. Kerry Washington is that to be sure, and she enhanced her credentials by appearing in the ABC series Scandal. She wins the role in a jiffy.

Hamilton said that his wife Elizabeth was “not a genius,” but added that she had a “lovely form, sweet softness and innocent simplicity,” much like Rachel McAdams, the dark-eyed and (sometimes) raven-haired star of The Notebook. While Treasury Secretary, Hamilton became embroiled in an affair with Maria Reynolds, a grifter who together with her husband subsequently blackmailed her supposed lover. Rooney Mara, the face of Calvin Klein, could bring Maria to the screen in a flash.

Jefferson and Hamilton interacted with a bevy of bigger than life figures. There was George Washington. No one has gotten him right on the screen, but I’ll bet Liam Neeson could. Aaron Burr was like Hamilton in many ways and eventually killed him in their 1804 duel. John Leguizamo, a soldier in Casualties of War as Burr actually was in the Revolutionary War, is just right for playing this shrewd, calculating, ahead-of-his-times New York politician. Leguizamo can even look ornery, which makes him a dead ringer for Burr. Hamilton never hated any man more than John Adams and Jefferson never loved any political compatriot/foe more than Adams. John Malkovich would be perfect as the cantankerous and acerbic old Adams. Besides, anyone with the mettle to fight all the terrorists in Red 2 could stand up to Hamilton, just as President Adams did. Bruce Willis would nail the daring and combative Benedict Arnold, the traitor that both Jefferson and Hamilton wanted to hang.
Learn more about the author and his book Jefferson and Hamilton at John Ferling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue