PASADENA — "Turn," the latest drama series for AMC, takes a revolutionary look at the Revolutionary War. The series will focus on what went on secretly behind the scenes more than the battles that eventually resulted in independence for the United States.
In the autumn of 1776, George Washington and his troops were in big trouble. They had just lost New York to a British army that was bigger and better equipped. Even worse, the Brits were better informed. To counter the spying being done by the British, the Culper Ring, a small group of men and women, became America's espionage program.
The AMC drama focuses on struggling farmer Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) who is living in British-occupied Long Island. He's recruited by the Colonial Army to spy on the British and bands together with his childhood friends to form the spy ring. It also stars Seth Numrich, Heather Lind, Daniel Henshall and Kevin McNally.
"Turn" is based on the novel "Washington's Spies" by Alexander Rose.
Bell, who was born in Billingham, England, didn't know a lot about the Revolutionary War before signing on to the project.
"I wasn't really taught about it in school at all. I don't think it's something that still to this day we look on particularly fondly," Bell says. "It wasn't part of the curriculum. We did a lot of the British Monarchy and then kind of, just kind of skipped that part out."
Not a lot of schools, even in the U.S., go into depth about the American spies or even that a lot of colonists were against the idea of breaking away from England's rule.
Rose, a consultant on the series, explains that if during the Revolutionary War a colonist had been asked what was the capital of the United States, they would have been more inclined to say London than Philadelphia, Boston or New York.
The most surprising thing Rose discovered was the delight Washington took in spying on the enemy.
"We always tend to think of Washington as this sort of solemnly sort of figure on a one-dollar bill who's completely and utterly humorless. But, in fact, what I discovered was that he took this very deep interest in the goings-on of this very obscure bunch of people on Long Island," Rose says.
Rose came to the idea of writing on the American spies by accident. He was reading a book about Kim Philby, the British traitor, when he started wondering if anyone had ever written a book on Washington and spying. He assumed there would be libraries filled on the topic. That wasn't the case.
"I just sort of found out that there was this vast untapped reservoir of intelligence history that had just been ignored over the last couple of hundred years because it was a little bit underhanded," he says.
It's not just book writers who have ignored the period. When it comes to TV and film productions based on wars, the one fought by the colonists takes a distant back seat to the Civil War or the World Wars.
Executive producer Craig Silverstein says the Revolutionary War had a seamy underbelly where it was often neighbor against neighbor. Even families were divided by their loyalty to the Monarchy and the Founding Fathers. That's the lesson behind "Turn."
"Turn": 9 p.m. Sunday, April 6, on AMC.