While in the early grades of elementary school, many of us were taught about the first Thanksgiving and how the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, became friends with the Indians and then ate a lot of food. Years later were taught that life as a pilgrim was a little tougher then what we were lead to believe and as adults, we know this to be true. Still, you may not really have a grasp about how tough things were for everybody in the new world. The National Geographic Channel attempts to bust all myths surrounding the Mayflower voyage in its two-part event, “Saints and Strangers.”
The four-hour long production is impressive as it is interesting. However, a quick “heads up” that sitting through all four hours in one sitting is a bit much. Fortunately, the channel has repeated showings of the movie in the coming weeks so you can plan accordingly. And don’t get too attached to too many of the passengers as they will not be around for long. It is amazing to see just how ill-prepared these people were from traveling such a large distance and things didn’t get a lot better once they reached land either.
Of the two parts, the latter is the more superior for two reasons. During the Part One …
- The folks at National Geographic worked so hard in making sure that everything was accurate, that they forgot to show much of any character development of their cast.
- They also squashed any moment of levity in the first two hours.
These are interesting characters, but we don’t really get to know them until halfway through their adventure. The first Thanksgiving doesn’t even happen until the third hour of programming. And while you probably want to watch the entire production, you could probably watch just the second half and get a lot of it.
Those who took the challenge of traveling by Mayflower included the “saints” (those who sole purpose of the trip was to experience religious freedom) and the “strangers” (those who had real world material objectives). Vincent Kartheiser makes up for his portrayal of the snotty Pete Campbell in “Mad Men” and is completely unrecognizable here as William Bradford. He and his wife Dorothy (Anna Camp) have left their young son in England with plans to fetch for him when their colony has been established. Dorothy makes for a fine pastor’s wife, but misses her son desperately. For a good portion of the production William doesn’t say much more than “It’s God’s will” regarding anything that happens to them on the journey whether it be good or bad circumstance. This isn’t very comforting to anyone. It isn’t until he experiences his own personal pain that he becomes a more “real” person.
Along for the “ride” is John Carver (Ron Livingston) the initial leaders of the pilgrims, Edward Winslow (Barry Slone from TV’s “Revenge” and “The Whispers”) serving as a diplomat to the Pakanoket tribe and Myles Standish (Michael Jibson) as a military advisor.
The “strangers” included Stephen Hopkins (Ray Stevenson) who was the only one on board who had made the trip once before, his wife Elizabeth (Natascha McElhone) who was (spoiler alert) only one of the four women to make it to the first Thanksgiving and John Billington (Brian F. O’Byrne) who looks as if he came just to stir up trouble.
Then, there are the Native Americans: Massasoit (Raoul Trujillo) leader of the Pokanoket tribe, Hobbamock (Tatanka Means) an elite warrior and Squanto (Kalani Queypo) a former slave of English explorers who has a fine understanding of the English language. (The American Indians speak in their native language and there are a lot of subtitles).
Those these events happened hundreds of years ago, it is interesting to see how little we as a nation have changed. During the first Christmas on land, some of the Christians sing hymns while others do not because the Bible doesn’t say to celebrate Christmas. The pilgrims find a stash of corn and struggle what to do about it. Some think that it would be stealing from the natives while others have more of a “finders keepers” mentality. Some are concerned about becoming friends with the natives while others think of them as savages to be concurred. On the other side, some of the natives are leery of the new visitors while others want to embrace them. Learning how to trust each other is very intriguing to watch.
Neither William Bradford nor Edward Winslow are perfect, but as a Christian, it is nice to see these religious men challenge each other and keep their moral compasses on tract. Their friendship with Squanto is moving at times as well. Instead of being politically correct, Saints and Strangers tries to show the true nature of all who were involved and seeing the good as well as the bad behavior helps to balance things out.
“Saints and Sinners” is pretty “talky” and at times it feels more like you are reading a text book. My heartstrings didn’t really get pulled until near the end. There is so much information to cover that there isn’t a lot of room to develop much of the personal stories of the people involved. This project may have done better as a limited TV series where they could have explored these stories a bit more. With that said, if you make it until the end, you should feel rewarded that you did. This will no doubt become excellent curriculum for high school students in the future as well.
“Saints and Strangers” will be presented at the following times. Double check your local listings as they may be different where you live:
- November 23 – Part One: 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. / Part Two: 9:00 p.m.
- November 24 – Part Two: 1:00 a.m.
- November 26 – Part One: 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. / Part Two: 9:00 p.m.
- November 27 – Part Two: 1:00 a.m.
- November 29 – Part One: 9:00 a.m. / Part Two: 11:00 a.m.
- November 30 – Part One: 3:00 p.m. / Part Two: 5:00 p.m.
- December 3 – Part One: 3:00 p.m. / Part Two: 5:00 p.m.