I recently had a chance to view PBS’s Liberty, the American Revolution. This is part of my larger plan to start collecting documentaries on the American Revolution (I’ll skip The Patriot thanks).
Overall I found this PBS series a solid summary. Given the limitations of a 6 hour series, the producers were bound to skip over some elements of the war. A few examples such as the importance of Valley Forge, the details of the British evacuation of Boston and the duplicitous Charles Lee come to mind. On the other hand, they did a good job exploring the southern campaign including details around the animosity between the Scotch Irish and more well established southerners that I didn’t know about.
But lets get to the fun stuff and talk about the re-enactments. The primary storytelling method of the series consisted of actors (some even well known–Hello Richard Seymour Hoffman!), acting out the writings of the people of the time. I found most of it overacted and a bit tacky to say the least, but I confess there were a few moments that actually made me laugh out loud and even tear up a few times. I think my favorite is JD Cullum, who plays the british dandy Nicolas Cresswell. Very well done Mr. Cullum. You make me laugh with all your British dandyness.
- For some reason, Philip Bosco’s Benjamin Franklin seems to need to finish his speeches by stating his name, as if we didn’t know who he was supposed to be. I found it odd since no one else did it this way.
- Roger Rees as Thomas Paine? Meh.
- A perfect example of overacting: Campbell Scott as the starry eyed dreamer and part time children’s story teller, Thomas Jefferson.
- Donna Murphy could of given Laura Lenney (in HBO’s John Adams) a run for her money as the best Abigail Adams.
- Stephen Lang played George Washington. Not quite a muscly as he was in Avatar. He was ok, but George Washington is tough to cast. I thought David Morse in HBO’s John Adams was underwhelming too (probably the biggest miss in an otherwise excellently cast series. However Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson was magnificent).
So there you have it. I am currently reading Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman. I also expect a PBS series on Lafayette to arrive any day now too. Stay tuned.