As I anticipate celebrating Independence Day in a few weeks on July 4, I am reminded how incredibly remarkable the birth of our nation was. Eight years ago over the weekend of the Fourth, one of our local PBS stations played a six-part documentary called Liberty! The American Revolution.
I was so impressed by the series that I purchased it. At that time it was only available in VHS format. Of course, it is now available in DVD format. Almost every summer since I bought the set, I pull it out and watch it over the space of a few weeks.
The series was exquisitely produced and directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, and was written by Ronald Blumer. The series covers the period just prior to the 1765 Stamp Act through the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Hovde and Meyer do a fine job of piecing together the various events that precipitated the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They spend a great deal of time detailing important events and features of the Revolutionary War. Finally, they wrap up with the post-war period that culminated with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, followed by the Bill of Rights.
Hovde and Meyer achieve a very good mix of diverse views of each matter they cover in the series to help the viewer understand the complexities involved. They also try to explain the culture of the day so as to place events in their proper context, as some attitudes demonstrated by people of that era seem completely foreign to us today. One reviewer at Amazon says that the series “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.”
Forrest Sawyer (who admits that his own ancestors were British loyalists) does a superb job narrating the series. The musical score meshes seamlessly with the story line, so as to lend a measured emphasis and intensity to each scene. The musician in me very much likes the score, which I understand was done by violinist Mark O’Connor. Each one-hour segment starts and ends with a duet by singer-guitarist James Taylor and O’Connor of an old war tune that came to Appalachia from Ireland, called Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier. The song is included on a CD made for the series.
The series includes interviews of various experts. Each expert is well spoken and each interview is excellent in its own right. The interviews are broken up by topic and interspersed throughout the series. I also very much enjoy the magnificent performances by a number of top-notch actors (see full list) that dramatically speak actual lines attributed to the individuals portrayed. The lines have been derived from historical documents, including journals, letters, news accounts, etc.
The series won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. But frankly, I don’t care what the elite have to say about it. I’m glad that some of them liked it, but for me it is a wonderful reminder of what the founding of the United States of America was all about. It helps that its research, writing, directing, production, scoring, interviewing, and acting were all done superbly.
For a more detailed treatment of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that brought us the U.S. Constitution, I enjoy the film, A More Perfect Union. The Emmy Award winning film was produced by BYU Motion Picture Studio for the bicentennial of the Constitution. It features a number of ethic film actors (see list), including several famous non-LDS American and British actors. Kurt Bestor’s score enhances every scene. If you have connections with the BYU studio, please don’t take this wrong, but I was amazed by the excellence of this film the first time I saw it.
A More Perfect Union was filmed on-site in Historic Philadelphia. Much of the dialogue is derived directly from historical records, but it also includes enough ‘historically correct’ fiction to make the film enjoyable. The film begins with Shay’s Rebellion, highlights events leading to the Constitutional Convention, details many of the most significant events of the Convention, details the final voting by the Convention, and culminates with the inauguration of George Washington.
The film is 112 minutes long, but it is well worth watching. It shows how complicated it was to achieve our Constitution given competing interests and diversity of personalities and beliefs of those involved. Given how well the Constitution has endured the subsequent 2+ centuries, it lends to the belief that a divine hand was at least somewhat involved in the process.
If you want to get into the spirit of America for the July 4th celebration, I highly recommend viewing the Liberty! series, as well as A More Perfect Union. I think you will be well rewarded for the effort.