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'The Good Lord Bird' Episode 1: Ethan Hawke's fanatical John Brown wins hearts, fans certain he'll bag Emmy

Hawke's portrayal of Brown, who was historically known to be idealistic, aggressive and religious, adds an x-factor to the man's legacy and fans are here for it
Ethan Hawke (Showtime)
Ethan Hawke (Showtime)

‘The Good Lord Bird’, created by Mark Richard and Ethan Hawke, is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride. The show tells the story of the legendary abolitionist John Brown, who unlike other anti-slavery activists of that era, believed in aggression as the only means against slaveholders and the entire institution of slavery in general. He became involved in the abolitionist movement following the brutal murder of Presbyterian minister and anti-slavery activist Elijah P Lovejoy in 1837. Brown was tried and executed for his literal war against slavery — he did not see the institution end in his lifetime. 

The Showtime limited series doesn’t make him out to be a White savior to be revered. In fact, Hawke, who plays Brown, goes the extra mile to portray Brown as a religious fanatic who thinks he is fulfilling god's duty by freeing people of color. Hawke's Brown is a delusional, deranged man who loves to quote the Bible, make loud and exuberant declarations of his cause, and is violent and vengeful towards those who do not see his cause as the only noble one. Brown, in the show, talks to rabbits, kills with fervor and prays long enough to annoy everyone in his religious militia. But he is, nonetheless, a good man with a good heart.

Narrated by Henry Shackleford or Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a Black boy that Brown mistakes for a girl (because he heard Henrietta instead of Henry), the first episode does a tremendous job of capturing the utter absurdity of Antebellum America that looks surprisingly like a Coen Brothers imagination. 

Viewers of the show were immediately won over — not just by the story, the idea and this reimagination of an often-left-out historical figure, but also by Hawke’s manic energy. Hawke's portrayal of Brown, who was historically known to be idealistic, aggressive and religious, adds an x-factor to the man’s legacy and how it will be remembered.

One fan of the show wrote on Twitter, "I watched the first episode of The Good Lord Bird this morning, and I am fully convinced that Ethan Hawke is channeling the actual spirit of John Brown." Another fan said, "Ethan Hawke as John Brown in The Good Lord Bird is perfect. He actually applies that early American religious zeal to the hypocritical system around him and you can tell it infuriates him that everyone in the country isn’t taking arms against slavery all the time." Another fan of the show wrote, "Ethan Hawke is a master in The Good Lord Bird. What I find most impressive is incorporating humor in serious subject matter effectively. Whoa. This is taking First Reformed to new heights. It's about time I watched that one again."




While the historical accuracy of Hawke’s performance is certainly questionable, it does not change the fact that many found it both entertaining and refreshing, just like the show. "Just finished the premiere of Good Lord Bird, Ethan Hawke’s Showtime series about John Brown. His portrayal delivers on the intensity and sincerity of one of our country’s most important martyrs. Delighted to see Keith David appear!" said a fan on Twitter. One fan noted, "Ethan Hawke has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards & a Tony. I think he's going to win an Emmy for The Good Lord Bird.” Another fan observed, “Ethan Hawke is acting his a** off as John Brown.”




‘The Good Lord Bird’ started off great but it remains to be seen if this energy will hold on till the very end. The show airs on Sundays on Showtime at 9 pm ET/PT.