Give me liberty!
FrKurt Messick | Bloomington, IN USA | 12/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'Liberty! The American Revolution' is a wonderful PBS series, a six-part treatment of the period leading up to and including the American Revolution in the mid-to-late 1700s.
As this series shows, the seeds of the American Revolution were planted long before the actual conflicts began. This was not an overnight decision on the part ofthe colonists or the British; intense negotiations and political attempts were made for years prior to the outbreak of hostilities. The colonists largely came from Britain; the leadership certainly looked to Britain for political, moral and cultural guidance, as well as primary trade and security vis-a-vis the Spanish, the French, and the Native Americans. American leaders were, by and large, British leaders too -- George Washington held a commission and fought with the British in the French and Indian War.
This was a family break-up in many ways -- the series' astute use of the actual words of the people of the time show the emotions that conflict, the love-hate relationship both sides embodied. The first episode shows the beginnings of discontent on both sides, with the colonists beginning to be stressed over being ignored by the British leadership, and the British leadership, in the form of George III, newly ascended to the throne, and various high-powered ministers, feeling that the colonists were rather ungrateful toward their (so-they-considered-themselves-to-be) rightful lords.
Liberty, ironically, was what George III and his first minister, William Pitt, were all about. The Seven-Years War was won as a fight for liberty; the colonies in America and elsewhere were won over to Britain, who had a parliamentary democracy (however poorly enacted) as opposed to absolute monarchy (such as in France). So, the break-up between Britain and the American colonies becomes all the more troublesome -- not only were the opposing sides practically family, but largely believed the same things.
The series never makes the direct comparison, but one can get the sense of Jonathan Swift here, that the battles are fought over relatively minor things (like which side of the egg to crack) -- in the scheme of world politics then and now, the controversies were relatively slight. However, the issues of taxation, governance and respect were important, not perhaps so much for what they were, but for what they did portend as future treatment, and the colonists did not like being second-class citizens in a British-dominated world, even if, to the British leadership, being second-class British was better than being almost anything else. There was also the spectre of the Irish tyranny, perpetrated by the English, that loomed large as a possibility. Sadly, one cannot say that these fears were unjustified.
The series is intriguing, introducing sides to the conflict that one doesn't recall from grade-school and high-school civics classes -- the conflicts among the colonies themselves; the dissent among the colonies who often wanted a repair rather than a break with Britain; and the personal reflections and fears of the founding fathers and mothers (yes, there were many women involved in this process). Using diaries, correspondence, official documents and media reports of the time, the show weaves together a narrative history that achieves a good popular balance between historical detail and narrative reporting.
The writers' admiration for the founding Americans, their bravery and their intelligence, is very apparent. Their concern to present the British in a fair and balanced light is also apparent, and often portrayed as trying to be reasonable and responsive to many of the colonial concerns, if not always pleasant and courteous to the colonial leaders themselves. The writing is interesting and thoughtful, and done in a popular tone that gives personality to the people who figure in the events.
The final episode looks at the aftermath of the war, and the struggle for unity as a nation. George Washington's statement that liberty could be both a blessing and curse was taken to heart -- when the Constitutional Convention met to amend the Articles of Confederation, it went far beyond its original mandate, and it was telling that not all colonies sent representatives, and not all that were sent agreed to stay through the proceedings.
A great series in many ways, it makes a great gift for anyone (or to oneself) with an interest in history. It also has a companion volume available, which works both as a stand-alone volume or as a supplement."
Good, but 3rd place for me...
John Aaron | Bay Area, CA United States | 12/04/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'd read glowing reviews here and elsewhere for "Liberty" as THE documentary for the American Revolution, but I preferred both "The American Revolution" and "The Revolutionary War" over Liberty. I'll say this, Liberty does do a better job of covering the time leading up the war, but for as long as this series is (where you figure it would be pretty thorough), I was amazed at some of the events/people that were not covered at all. How does a documentary on the American Revolution make no mention of Ethan Allen, Nathan Hale, John Paul Jones, etc? I was also surprised at how little focus Thomas Jefferson received. Jefferson and his contributions were covered, but it seemed like it was almost an after-thought. Like, "Oh yeah, I guess we should mention Thomas Jefferson in here somewhere..." Also, the battles in NY (outside of the retreat from Long Island) were skipped over. No mention of the British invasion at Kip's Bay (where Washington said "Are these the men with which I am to defend America?"), no mention of the battle of White Plains, etc. I was also let down by how quickly they glossed over Benedict Arnold being exposed as a traitor, how it happened, Major John Andre's involvement, etc.
All in all, not bad, but as I said, I preferred "The American Revolution" and "The Revolutionary War"."
Better than an introduction
Michael R. Nichols | Huntsville, AL USA | 07/12/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Liberty! The American Revolution is an excellent foray into the events of the Revolutionary war. Beginning in 1765 with the Stamp Act, the documentary covers the events that lead up to the war thus giving a good background both from the Colonist and the British points of view.
There are history talking heads throughout the documentary that illuminate the event being shown at the time. Re-enactments are some of the best I've seen, with not just a shot of soldiers' feet marching and such ilk. There are battle scenes showing the full view of the battle lines of the soldiers.
Each battle of the war is documented and for the first time revolutionary historian, it is plenty of information to give a good idea of how each event went. I was somewhat disappointed in the short time given to the crossing of the Delaware and the attack on Trenton, as well as Arnold's betrayal at West Point. It was talked about, but I would've liked to have seen more.
This is also where I first heard about Joseph Plumb Martin, the soldier who kept a diary of the seven years he was with Washington, then later wrote a book about his times in the army when he was 70 years old.
There is very good acting by actors who play familiar and not so familiar characters giving recitals of people's writing. This includes again, Colonial and British people. It's a great look at both sides. Some documentaries have someone reading off-camera. I like seeing a person re-enacting.
I recommend getting this DVD set, especially if you don't have a domumentary of the Revolutionary Period. It's a great intro. Over the past 2 years, I've viewed it four times."
Highly informative and highly entertaining
Michael N. Ryan | Bel AIr, Maryland USA | 05/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A most enjoyable way for learning the basics of the American revolution. The book by Thomas Fleming really compliments it quite well.
I really enjoyed the actor portrayals of the men and women involved giving voice to the words they actually wrote. And the way they were combined by the film served quite well. Thomas Hutchinson really comes across as Parliment's Quisling, seeking their support for his ambitions to hold local offices. Contrasting Hutchinson is Ben Franklin (extremely well portrayed) whose ambitions are clearly imperial. Or Rochambou, seasoned and experienced, contrast with Lafayett's youthful idealism.
I also enjoyed the Historian interviews. Clearly the Brits still don't understand what this war was over. They really should study their own civil war between Parliment and Charles I before they even try to tell us what our war with them was over.
Overall, I enjoyed this series. Superbly filmed. Narated nicely. Portrayed realisticly. A joy to watch."