This is odd: There haven’t been that many movies and TV shows about the American Revolution.
AMC’s Turn showrunner Craig Silverstein (Nikita) points this out during our interview and my first thought is that he must be wrong. Then he challenged me to name more than a half dozen or so titles. There just aren’t many when compared to the libraries of films and shows chronicling every aspect of the Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War. The war that founded our country gets surprisingly little attention in pop culture — at least, until recently, when Red Coats started showing up in titles like Assassins Creed III and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow (now we all know what Hessian troopers are).
With Turn, Silverstein aims to not only dramatize a lesser-understood war but also commit an act of storytelling revolution by flipping a core assumption about the fight for independence on its head.
“What we’re told in school is that it was a very David vs. Goliath tale, that we fought the British for our freedom,” Silverstein says. “In reality it was a war fought between neighbors, it was fought house to house … there were many people living here who believed they were British subjects and this uprising was a criminal movement that needed to be put down and if the American cause were actually achieved it would lead to chaos. There had been nothing before that to suggest it would work. There were people divided within homes. It wasn’t like we were repelling an alien invasion force, it was more like a divorce.”
In the show, Jamie Bell plays a cabbage farmer who becomes a spy for Gen. George Washington (clearly a career upgrade). The story is based on the book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. Aliases, dead drops, black budgets and other spy tropes were discovered during this period by trial and error, Silverstein points out.
“I was surprised to find it was the story about the foundation of modern trade craft and spying,” Silverstein says of the book. “The idea of spying wasn’t really formed until that point. Spies were scouts who crawled over a hill and literally spied down. The idea of somebody staying behind enemy lines and pretending to be somebody they weren’t was a revolutionary idea in and of itself … it was a dishonorable thing and not cool. They were proud of what they achieved but not proud of the way they archived it so the story was buried until like the 1930s until they found these letters.”
During the show’s press tour panel in Pasadena on Saturday, Silverstein added that — unlike many high-concept dramas that launch with big ideas and nowhere to go — there’s plenty of real-life history to mine for several potential seasons. “There’s 10 episodes including our pilot [in the first season] and there are eight years of the war,” he said. “What you’re seeing in the first season is the formation of the Culper Ring. After that there’s all their adventures and missions and incredible tension with Benedict Arnold, who is still today the highest ranked mole in history.”
Turn also just got a premiere date on AMC: April 6. Here’s a new trailer just released: