11 December 2007 | J-Stone-2
At last, a decent US history documentary!
Let me begin by saying I'm a Brit through and through (currently live in Japan though), and a pretty patriotic one to boot.
Even so, I loved this series, despite the fact that we were supposed to be the "enemy" and we lost.
I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of most U.S. made historical documentaries, because I usually find them lightweight, childish, naieve, biased and too focused on what I consider minor details. I can't stand most of the stuff served up on the History Channel, for example. So I wasn't expecting too much when I came across this PBS series.
But what a pleasant surprise! At the end of watching this series I felt it was on a par with anything produced in Britain and I came away with a much better understanding of the background and sequence of events during the revolutionary period.
What I liked:
1. Well paced. 6 episodes at 40 minutes each was just right I felt.
2. Nicely balanced between the U.S. and U.K. version and interpretation of events; several British historians were interviewed and they served as a good counterweight to their American counterparts.
3. In depth explanation of the events leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in the 13 colonies; they didn't try to put all the blame on George III or British authorities.
4. Talking heads really brought to life the letters and diaries of the men and women of that time. Far nicer than just listening to a narrator read it all out.
5. Good balance between coverage of battles and tactics with the bigger picture and strategies
6. Surprisingly impartial and fair to the British pov, considering that Americans usually have a huge uber-patriotic blind spot when it comes to this period in their history. The British weren't overly demonised or portrayed as dummies in redcoats (as was the case with awful films such as "The Patriot"). This documentary shows that terrible atrocities were committed in the name of the revolution and in the name of surpressing it. I felt this was a sign of maturity and 'closure' on the part of the makers.
7. The role the French played in securing the victory at Yorktown for the Americans was given fair prominence. The makers of this documentary seem big enough to not be mealy-mouthed about this, which makes a refreshing change from the usual myopia on this topic.
There were some fairly emotional scenes as well. Although I consider myself objective and impartial when it comes to history (I think we have to be, to attain that higher truth of which Descartes spoke), I felt surges of patriotic pride when the British army performed well (such as British army engineers scaling that mountain to secure the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga, the capture of New York, or Clinton's successful initial campaign in the American South). Conversely, I really felt sorry for "our lads" at times, being 3,000 miles from home when they were outnumbered and cut off deep in rebel territory. I hope Americans will try to understand why I feel this way... it's hard for us to be impartial all the time.
Overall, I was left with a sense of the greatness of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. I was also pleased to learn that Cornwallis was a far better field commander than history has given him credit for and that he was badly let down by Clinton in New York.
I salute PBS and ask all Americans interested in art, culture and the pursuit of historical truth to keep supporting this wonderful institution you have. It represents the best traditions of your wonderful country.
God Bless America and God Save the Queen!