‘The Good Lord Bird’ is a tall tale pretending at history

by Gordon Shelly

The long and short of it is this – The Good Lord Bird­ would have been better served as a two hour feature film instead of being stretched into a 7-episode mini-series. And, boy is it stretched.

An historical work of fiction, telling the story of John Brown (Ethan Hawke) as told through the eyes of orphaned slave, Henry Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), whom Brown mistakes for a young girl, there after lovingly referring to him as “Onion.” Together Brown and Onion go on a series of adventures eventually leading up to Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 at the outset of the American Civil War.

The story fictionalizes much of Brown’s final days and his relationship with Frederick Douglass (Daveed Diggs). Most of the movie is interesting, well-acted, and its characters are very compelling. However, it is repetitive and forced at times, expanding on topics and repeating themes unnecessary with the primary goal of showing that Ethan Hawke can shout for long, extended periods while costumed in a beard.

No doubt, Hawke saw this as an award-winning tour de force but the performance falls short; not for lack of effort, but for repetitiveness. Again and again and again, and yet again, the viewer is assaulted with an angry John Brown, with whom we are supposed to sympathize with, but find it difficult to do so.

Gordon’s Grade: B-