I love American history. I fully enjoyed reading about it in school and studying it in college. But I usually don’t enjoy watching American history presented on TV. Until now! Saints and Strangers is literally the best presentation of any period of American history I have ever seen on screen. I strongly urge you to watch it with your family.
No political agenda. No gratuitous sex scenes, no excessive scenes of violence, no profanity – just the true story of the first Thanksgiving based on primary sources. We have often heard that those who came over on the Mayflower endured hardships, but to most Americans “endured hardships” is an innocuous phrase that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.
This National Geographic Channel’s two-night movie event, Saint & Strangers, premiering this Nov 22-23 at 9 p.m., goes deep inside the familiar historical account of Thanksgiving, revealing the tribulations of the first settlers at Plymouth and their complex relationship with the Native Americans and with each other.
I am relieved that the producers didn’t make it a “soap opera” with fictitious love triangles, and I am just as pleased that they didn’t gloss over the Pilgrims’ dependence on God and their desire to propagate religious freedom in this new land. In fact, they emphasized it.
I felt that I was watching an illustrated version of early Puritan diaries and journals, which I was. These men and women intrigued me. First, they made a perilous 66-day journey to find religious freedom, depending on God every step of the way. But they weren’t the only passengers on the Mayflower. Another group of people made the journey. The Pilgrims referred to themselves as the “Saints,” the others passengers as the “Strangers.” The “Strangers” were motivated by real-world material objectives and adventure as opposed to the spiritual objectives of the “Saints,” hence the title Saints and Strangers.
Finding out about this other group of “Strangers” making the voyage with the Pilgrims was the first indication that this series would be special. They didn’t have to add to the true story of survival, sacrifice, alliances and betrayals. It had my interest from the first minute as the story unfolded over two nights and answered many questions; such as How did they survive the winter? How did they get along with the Native Americans and with each other?
The storyline isn’t padded with “extra” non-essentials such as “soap opera” romances or manufactured hostilities. The simple true story has plenty of intrigue with a strong message of God’s faithfulness even in time of deep sorrow. I found myself emotionally involved with the settlers as they struggled to make wise decisions, to survive the hardship of a bitter winter, starvation, and disease.
The significance of Squanto, the former captive and slave of English explorers, was a crucial component of survival for the settlers. He helped them adapt to their new land as well as translated for them with the local Native American tribes. The last time I heard of Squanto was in a Sunday school lesson that taught how God provided for the Pilgrims. This series doesn't try to "hide" how absolutely critical Squanto was to their survival.
By showing the Native American tribes speaking their native tongue, the film gave the impression that we were actually there, looking over their shoulder and into their minds as they negotiated treaties, traded, and fought with the settlers. For the first time I was able to understand their fear of the English as well as the fear the English had for them.
I can’t give a higher recommendation for a television production. It is historically accurate, the production is first-rate, the acting is superb and believable, and the storyline was gripping. I was also pleased that this story of the Pilgrims isn't being promoted as a “Christian production" but is simply presented a true account of the beginnings of our nation – which happened to be based on Christian principles.
After watching Saints and Sinners you will have a new appreciation for Thanksgiving. Don't miss it.