Sons of Liberty: Inside the Revolutionary 3-Night Miniseries

Michael Logan
Ollie Upton/History

Sons of Liberty

It's the ultimate origin story. History's Sons of Liberty, a three-night miniseries set 10 years before the American Revolution, tracks a soon-to-be-legendary group of young guns–Sam Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren–as they set about freeing the 13 colonies from Mother England. But there's nothing star-spangled about it.

"When most people think of the Founding Fathers, they picture a bunch of stuffy old guys with powdered wigs and quill pens who got in a room and decided to start a country," says History's general manager Dirk Hoogstra of the miniseries, which began last night. "The real story has been muddled and twisted and lost along the way. These men weren't gods. They were flawed and vulnerable human beings with vastly different ideas about freedom. And some were acting out of pure self-interest."

What's more, their fight for independence–clandestinely organized in bars and back alleys–was chaotic, sometimes dishonorable, and frequently booze-fueled. The notion of freedom wasn't popular with most of their fellow colonists, who were unaware their human rights were being violated by King George III and didn't see the point of rebellion. In fact, the very idea of splitting from the Crown was so out-there that Benjamin Franklin, played by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris, pronounces it "bats--t crazy."

Sons of Liberty
Ollie Upton/History

Hoogstra knows he'll likely catch flak for such anachronistic dialogue. "But I'm OK with that, because it's the perfect description of this unfathomable undertaking," he says. "We're talking about men who picked up their rakes and hoes and rusty muskets and went up against the biggest, most seasoned military in the world. It's still hard to believe that it actually happened...or that it worked."

Also starring Jason O'Mara (George Washington), Rafe Spall (Hancock), Ryan Eggold (Warren), and former E.T. tyke Henry Thomas (John Adams), Sons is not A-list-packed like History's hit 2012 miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, which boasted Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, or its upcoming Texas Rising, with Paxton, Ray Liotta, and Brendan Fraser–and that's on purpose. "The subject matter here is so strong, we didn't feel the need to go out and chase big movie actors," says Hoogstra. "This is material that everyone, no matter your political beliefs, can rally behind, and that's rare in a country as divided as ours."

Sons puts much of its focus on rowdy but kindhearted maltmaker Sam Adams, played by Brit heartthrob Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia). "Adams was one of the premier architects of the revolution and a real hero," says Barnes, "which makes it all the more unfortunate that he's better known these days as the face on a bottle of beer. He was at the dead center of everything."

It was Adams's job to collect the king's taxes from the colonists, many of them already so poor they were barely surviving. "He just couldn't bear it," says Barnes. "Sam was a bit of a Robin Hood, allowing the people of his community to default on their taxes and taking on the burden, and potential punishment, himself. He was just a guy without a plan, but he was willing to stand up and say, 'We are being oppressed, and this must stop.'"

Not to take anything away from the war to come or the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but Barnes claims that the buildup to these events–as depicted in Sons–is really the best part. "It's like those early scenes in Ocean's 11 when you see this crazy gang coming together," says the actor, adding with a laugh, "Hey, if the formation of America wasn't a great heist, then what was?"

Sons of Liberty, January 25-27, 9/8c, History