FOUNDING FATHERS and FOUNDING BROTHERS examine the relationships of the very human men who risked their fortunes and lives for independence. THE REVOLUTION recounts great battles, devastating losses, and miraculous victories. BEN FRANKLIN and BENEDICT ARNOLD: A QUESTION OF HONOR look at the critical roles played by both men--one a hero, the other a traitor--while WASHINGTON THE WARRIOR and THE CROSSING pay tribute to the soul-stirring leadership of our first president.
With performances by Kelsey Grammar, Aidan Quinn, and Jeff Daniels, rare archival material, and commentary by leading historians, THE FOUNDING OF AMERICA presents historical programming at its comprehensive best.
DVD Features History in the Making: The Revolution ; Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes; Behind-the-Scenes "History in the Making"; Declaration of Independence episode of SAVE OUR HISTORY; The Many Faces of Ben Franklin ; Timeline; Anecdotes; Quotes; List of Innovations and Inventions; Benedict Arnold: Triumph and Treason (50-minute Biography episode); Cast Biographies/Filmographies
The four programs from the History Channel in this set profile America's Founding Fathers, noting right at the outset they were a "mismatched group of quarrelsome aristocrats, merchants, and lawyers." The story of how these disparate characters fomented rebellion in the colonies, formed the Continental Congress, fought the Revolutionary War, and wrote the Constitution is told by noted historians, and the production is enhanced with beautifully photographed reenactments as well as intelligent use of period paintings and engravings. The story begins with Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Boston, whose protests against British taxation led to the Boston Tea Party. Moving on to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, the brilliant delegates from the South, particularly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson appear on the scene, and the story is told of how an improbable cohesion between the colonies began. Other main characters, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, appear in turn, and each of the major participants is portrayed in a biographical profile. How these men all came to act together, despite the stark differences in their backgrounds and temperaments, becomes the main thread of the story. They were all quite human, as the historians who appear in interviews remind us. Some of them drank too much, some had illegitimate children, some owned slaves, and some could hardly get along with anyone. Yet these men with complicated private lives worked together and performed heroically. This is an intelligently rendered and captivating look at the men who formed the American nation. --Robert J. McNamara
Review for Founding Brothers:
The political wrangles of a fledgling country may sound dull compared to the drama of a war, but the early history of the United States only gets more fascinating as the Revolutionary War is left behind. Founding Brothers, a documentary from the History Channel, examines the struggle to not only establish democracy, but to give it the economic strength and governmental structure that will allow it to survive and thrive. George Washington grappled not only with politics, but with questions of style and propriety--how should a president, as opposed to a king, behave? Understanding the conflicts between Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson will illuminate ideas that have shaped the government of the U.S. ever since. Founding Brothers provides a wealth of portraits and illustrations from the time, as well as discreet dramatizations, that bring the rise of party politics to life, humanizing these historical figures with tales of the scandals and squabbles they faced as well as their political achievements. An excellent introduction to the roots of the American experiment, and a bracing illustration of what Jefferson meant when he said of the presidency, "No man will bring out of that office the reputation which carried him into it." --Bret Fetzer
Review for Washington the Warrior:
He was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen," and Washington the Warrior puts the emphasis on the beginning of that equation. The military career of George Washington is the well-chosen focus of this History Channel documentary, which will probably surprise the casual history buff. It gives the fascinating story of Washington's youthful ride into the Ohio territory to deliver a message to the French, a defining moment (and one that made Washington a celebrity after his diary of the journey was published). The film strongly suggests that the young Washington was in over his head in the early battles that followed, and that his career might well have ended after he led a British debacle at Fort Necessity, a stumble at the start of the French and Indian War. Glossing lightly over GW's years as a gentleman farmer, the doc picks up again with Washington's takeover of the Revolutionary army (he showed up at the Second Continental Congress dressed in his military uniform, leaving little question about his intentions) and the tenacious years that followed. The approach here is basically an illustrated lecture, with Stacy Keach intoning the story of Washington, and experts (mostly sounding enthralled with Washington's life) providing context. Meanwhile, armies of reenactors march through their paces in pretend battles. Jackson Bolt plays the mature Washington, with Shea Patrick as the younger version--and how refreshing to see the carved-in-marble George Washington as a guy in his twenties. CGI effects are a big boost here, and the location work is often flavorful. The re-creations have the flat, unconvincing quality of many such things--nobody ever gets their uniforms dirty--but the life being described is an important one, and the approach is foursquare. --Robert Horton
Review for Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor:
The most sullied figure of the American Revolution receives partial redemption in Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor. Produced for the A&E network, this factual drama reveals the lesser-known circumstances of Arnold's dishonor, beginning in 1777 and chronicling his fall from greatness. The conquering hero of Saratoga and other victories of the Revolution finds himself in an impossible predicament, his allegiance torn between his British loyalist wife (Jane Brennan) and his paternally devoted commander, George Washington (Kelsey Grammer), as his Colonial detractors cast him into a tragic no-win scenario. Authentically detailed and blessed by playwright William Mastrosimone's poetic period dialogue, Benedict Arnold successfully explores the personal and political facets of a great soldier's downfall. Aidan Quinn's expressive melancholy perfectly suits his title role, and Grammer transcends Frasier, lending appropriate gravitas--and some physical resemblance--to his portrayal of America's future president. Like A&E's earlier film The Crossing, this is compelling historical drama, entertaining, intelligent, and emotionally complex. --Jeff Shannon Review for The Crossing: Every American knows that George Washington crossed the icy Delaware River in the War of Independence, if only from Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's famous 1851 painting. The made-for-cable-TV historical drama The Crossing, scripted by Howard Fast from his novel, corrects at least one piece of historical invention--Washington did not stand and pose for the occasion of Leutze's portrait--but, more importantly, it frames the event in the real-life drama that made it a decisive moment of American history. Jeff Daniels makes a fine General George Washington, the quiet, dignified, and increasingly desperate leader of the volunteer Continental Army. By December 1776, six months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the tired and hungry army had retreated to the far banks of the Delaware River, a mere fraction of the original 20,000-strong force. Knowing that defeat means the end of the revolution, Washington takes the offensive in a dangerous surprise attack that turns the tide of the war. Like the sprawling Civil War epic Gettysburg, The Crossing takes one incident of the Revolutionary War and digs into the whys and wherefores that make it vital history. It lacks scope and spectacle--major battles appear more like modest skirmishes--and lapses into patriotic fervor at times, but it brims with rich historical detail and comes alive with the stories of officers, soldiers, and a very human George Washington. --Sean Axmaker