George Washington’s legendary trek across the Delaware River is revisited in “The Crossing,” A&E’s nobly executed but flawed look at the Revolutionary War’s most celebrated event. Not focused enough on the lingering effects of the journey, the cable web’s ambitious telepic gets high marks for effort only. Viewers who know little about the expedition will appreciate the simplistic history lesson, but demanding auds may want something that resonates with more significance.
Adapted by Howard Fast (from his novel), “The Crossing” takes on that famous incident from many angles; from the personalities to the plan of attack, most of the bases are covered. Most. What doesn’t come out is the full role that the Battle of Trenton plays within the framework of a blossoming society’s freedom. Low on every conceivable resource, Washington, played with restrained dignity by Jeff Daniels, became mythical, but that oft- made point is really all there is here.
Immediately after the colonies declared independence in 1776, the British routinely defeated the American army in various conflicts. Once again in retreat that December, the remaining Continental soldiers, a tired and hungry collection of teens and amateurs, maintained their sense of civic duty under Washington’s leadership.
The first big Delaware River snag comes when they are avoiding the enemy’s speedy advances. So under the guidance of Col. John Glover (Sebastian Roche) and with some commandeered boats, Washington navigates his meek bunch and a mere 18 pieces of artillery successfully across the water.
After securing a local landowner’s property for headquarters, Washington, who pleads constantly to Congress for more funding, discovers that the British have stationed 1,200 Hessian mercenaries at another point in Trenton, N.J. But instead of surrendering, as the British are expecting, Washington tells Gen. Lord Stirling (Ned Vukovich) and Gen. Hugh Mercer (Roger Rees) that he has devised an alternative strategy.
With the help of almost 1,000 fighters amassed from a different battalion, Washington’s men will once again cross the river in order to ambush the Hessians at dawn on Christmas Day. Met with several aides’ opposition, Washington, able to muster up enough patriotism, rallies the troops and pulls it off without losing a single man.
Recreating a vital adventure contains a lot of pitfalls, not the smallest of which is putting everything in context. And that’s exactly what’s missing from director Robert Harmon’s treatment, as he concentrates heavily on that one night but not on those that follow. It’s no big surprise that a newly established infantry would be full of novices, so the project’s repetitive insistence that this was an uphill battle gets old.
What isn’t clear is the story behind Washington’s struggles with the Continental Congress. While “The Crossing” does invite us into closed-door meetings between Washington and his subordinates, there is scant discussion about a young country’s fate. This was, after all, the crossroads of the nation’s future, and it’s handled like a mere underdog situation.
And everyone is so stiff. Daniels is convincing enough as the hero who eventually became our first president, and Harmon pinpoints some interesting faults. But the supporting cast is weighed down by a stuffy remoteness that adds some forced prolixity in several scenes. Only Roche stands out with his rebellious spirit.
Tech credits are solid, with Michael Harris’ detailed costumes richly reviving the era’s look.