The Challenge of Portraying America’s First President in Film
Farmer, surveyor, Founding Father, first American commander in chief. These are just a few of the ways President George Washington is remembered.
And though books abound, there have been a surprisingly limited number of attempts to tackle the mythic Virginian’s story in film — at least beyond the documentary space. As such, it’s difficult to discern which actor played the best Washington.
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“I don’t know that Mount Vernon could fairly rank but we certainly have some modern day favorites,” Matt Briney, vice president of media and communications for Mount Vernon, told Military Times.
Those, Briney said, include portrayals by Barry Bostwick from the 1984 miniseries “George Washington,” Jeff Daniels in “The Crossing,” and Ian Kahn from “TURN: Washington’s Spies.”
Two major motion pictures about the life or military career of Washington — “The General” and “The Virginian” — were rumored during the mid-to-late 2010s, but their status remains unclear.
Briney notes, however, that in the experience of the historians, the life of George Washington — or the other Founding Fathers, for that matter — does not need the Hollywood treatment to be compelling.
“I think some directors want to [view] them in a more superhuman, mythical [lens] — unrealistic portrayals of one-liner action heroes, but a good director with proper consultation from historians can create a story of their lives that would be very relatable to most people today.”
A treatment such as HBO’s “John Adams,” starring Paul Giamatti as the title character, would be a particularly good way to tackle the life of America’s most influential man, Briney adds.
“It’s my opinion, having produced several short films about Washington, that his life is a complicated and very full story to tell. That’s difficult to do in a 90- to 120-minute film,” he said. “Washington would likely be better served as a mini-series.”
Whether something of that nature is in store remains to be seen. For now, though it’s not historically accurate, there’s at least something to be said for the Dodge commercial in which Washington advances on the Redcoats behind the wheel of a Challenger. Talk about legendary.
Originally published by Military Times, our sister publication.