Franklin, tv series: petit plaisir #379
Thursday April 18, 2024

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In 1776, the eldest of the founding fathers of America set out to France after having just been part of a five-member committee that drafted The Declaration of Independence. Now, it is important to note that Franklin was not sent directly to Paris because his visit couldn’t be official, but to rather Passy, just outside of Paris (and now part of the 16th arrondissement of Paris). Why? To essentially court the France into supporting America during their war with Britain for their freedom. It would take him until 1783 to eventually reach the desired outcome of the Treaty of Paris that was signed officially ending the Revolutionary War, having in 1778 signed with France a military alliance that provided soldiers, supplies and money that proved critical to America’s victory in the war.

At this time in his life, aged 70, Benjamin Franklin, up until then was best known for his sharing of knowledge discovered about electricity, as well as being a prolific publisher and expanding the use of his printing business to advocate for various civil causes and rallying of public opinion.

And it is with Franklin’s arrival in France with the task before him to form an alliance with the French that the new series Franklin, starring Michael Douglas as Benjamin Franklin, begins. The eight-episode first season premiered on April 12th and is adapted from the biography written by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Stacy Schiff’s book published in 2005, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America.

Filmed entirely in France, at Versailles and throughout Paris, it took seven weeks, or approximately 80 days, to film which began in June 2022. The director Timothy Van Patten along with the writer for the series Kirk Ellis have shared that the opportunity to film in France while not easy to do, as filming internationally rarely is, was a magical experience that definitely elevated the quality of the series.

Speaking of France, you may be wondering, which language is spoken throughout the series? And it is a worth asking question. The writers dedicated with priority that whenever conversations would have naturally been spoken in French, the script would be written and spoken in French. With a predominantly French cast, along with British actors as well, if two French characters are speaking with one another in a scene, they are speaking French, and for this I am very grateful to see and partly why I chose this series as a Petit Plaisir.

Michael Douglas also speaks French throughout the series, just as you might imagine (or hope) a diplomat assigned a country they are to ally with would, and while Douglas doesn’t speak French in every scene, when he does speak French it is as one might if it was their second language, learned for professional purposes. I appreciate the honesty that he doesn’t sound like a Parisian, but at the same time, he understands French, he speaks correctly, even if he doesn’t predict nuisances that lead to unwanted responses, albeit what he is saying literally is correct. Franklin (Douglas’s character) dances back and forth between French to English depending upon whom he is speaking with and what the subject matter of the conversation to ensure comprehension, but yes, this series, while made primarily for English speaking audiences, at least remembers where it is filmed and who the historical figures are that are depicted on screen and what language they would have spoken.

As I share in the audio of the Petit Plaisir on the podcast episode, while I wouldn’t go so far as to give this series a 5/5, I do recommend watching it for a couple of reasons, some of which I shared above. This is a film for Francophiles and lovers of history. Most respected critics are giving the series 3/5 or 4/5, and I place myself somewhere in the middle. Michael Douglas does a fine job starring as Benjamin Franklin, but you still see Michael Douglas. I mean we’ve seen him on screen for 50 years; it is hard not to see Michael Douglas no matter in what role he plays, especially a historical figure who is in his own right well-known by people and students decades and centuries past. With that said, this is the first historical character Douglas has ever been cast or chosen to take on as a role, and to his credit, he is the exact same age as Franklin would have been during these negotiations. Of course, the health of Franklin is far different than that of Douglas, but I appreciate the casting department’s choice of similarity of age in their choosing.

Having watched the first three episodes, I look forward to watching the rest of the series, and it sounds as though this is one the first season and perhaps there will be more, because as historians know, and was indicated at the top of this post, this attempted seduction of France by Franklin took two years and was not assured.

Have a look at the trailer for Franklin below and watch episodes now, each Friday on AppleTV+.

~Tune in to the end of episode #379 of the podcast as I share more details about the cast and the plots, specifically the subplot that involves Franklin’s grandson Temple.

~Explore all of TSLL’s Petit Plaisirs here in the Archives.

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