Author and historian Alex Rose knows that choosing the American Revolution as subject matter comes with a level of risk in that most people’s knowledge of that period of history begins and ends with what they were taught at a very young age.
“We generally think of George Washington as chopping down a cherry tree and not lying about it and being above it all,” Rose said. “But the truth is he was a complicated man. And he did lose a lot of battles.”
AMC adapted Rose’s book Washington’s Spies to create the series “Turn,” now in its second season. The network asked Rose to act as a historical consultant, and he was more than happy to come aboard to help the show’s writers get the details correct.
“We’re very conscious that we’re dealing with the touchstones of American history,” Rose said. “But the problem with touchstones is they can become petrified and set in stone.”
Season One of “Turn” introduced viewers to Abe, a simple man who wants any threat of war to go away so he can enjoy a simple life as a cabbage farmer. But the late 18th Century was anything but a simple time in America.
“People had to make choices,” Rose said. “And if you got caught on the wrong side you could be hanged.”
Further Rose pointed out that most American’s “default position” was that of loyalist and not rebel. “Over time loyalists have been portrayed as cowards,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it than that. We think that politics are complicated these days, but they were more so back then.”
The arc of the shows across the first season followed Abe’s transition from average American, son of a Tory loyalist, to the leader of the nation’s first spy ring.
“Season One was the genesis of the spy ring,” Rose said. “People were learning the ropes. In Season Two the ring is coming together, which brings its own challenges.”
In Season Two Abe is totally set on being a spy. “He’s going to do whatever it takes, even if it causes collateral damage,” Rose said.
Season Two also features an infamous figure: Benedict Arnold, commonly thought of as America’s greatest traitor.
“He enters the show in his prime,” Rose explained. “He was one of the great war heroes, the best generals they had. We have to see him in that light. He didn’t start off as a bad guy.”
Rose said that overall the goal of “Turn” – along with entertaining – is to show that the period of the American Revolution was a “magnificent time” and not just what he calls a “goodie versus baddie narrative.”
“Remember, they don’t know what we know,” Rose added. “They don’t know who wins in the end.”
For more about Season Two of “Turn” go to the official show site here.