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Spinnin' yarns from the fabric of truth
on March 14, 2001
Perhaps better than any other filmed expedition into the Revolutionary past, LIBERTY! explains the WHY of the American uprising. Others have faulted it for being militarily incomplete, but this is its principle strength, in my view. Far too often, history is comprised of the accounts of battles. Here, though, the producers chose to focus on the dream of liberty more than its attainment. To be sure, important battles get their due, but the emphasis here is on a war won more through propaganda and promises than by musket and steel.
The producers are out to tell a story as much as the truth, and so know they have to start at the beginning. Many accounts of the times seem to skip glibly over the predominant happiness with British rule that most colonists felt, but not LIBERTY! Instead, it goes to great lengths to put viewers back in colonial America, so they can understand how improbable it was that the people of the time would've imagined themselves divorced from England. Unlike many accounts, LIBERTY! Is unafraid to take the opposing British viewpoint, and to include British historians. This documentary, indeed, sees the arguments from all sides, and shows just how reluctance turned to resolve. More to the point, it shows both sides as equally hotheaded and responsible for the war.
Indeed, the commitment to explain the conflict in human terms is so prevalent in this work, that actors hired to play various key figures propel the basic storyline as much as the narrator. Best of all, every word these actors speak comes from a documented primary source. Choosing to have the figures themselves partially tell the story adds great personal interest while moving the drama of the larger conflict swiftly along. Particularly noteworthy is the emphasis on the John and Abagail Adams relationship, which was fortunately well documented by their own letter writing. Their correspondence is one of the great diaries of the time, and lends much to an understanding of the decisions made. The great thing about including such a complete primary source in a history is that viewers get a real sense of what it was like to be unsure that the Revolution would succeed, or what shape the new nation would take.
In fact, it is precisely the decision to look at the events as a rocky rebellion rather than a revered revloution which makes LIBERTY! the pre-eminent documentary on the subject.