Liberty! The American Revolution

A major series for PBS. Beginning in 1763 and ending with the ratification of the US Constitution, this six-hour series had its national premiere in November 1997.

Synopsis

With dramatic readings from letters and diaries of the period plus live-action recreations, Liberty! The American Revolution traces the events leading up to the war and America’s fight for freedom. In 1763, the French have left and America is at peace, under British rule. But dissension is mounting, signified by the Boston Tea Party and the publication of Tom Paine’s book, Common Sense. We follow the course of the Revolution as George Washington assumes command, Benjamin Franklin goes to France seeking support, and Americans come together in a conflict that will forge a new nation. The series concludes with the creation of that extraordinary document, the United States Constitution.

The companion book, by historian Thomas Fleming, was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection.

Awards

George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism

Web Site

pbs.org/ktca/liberty

Credits

Producer / Directors: Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Writer: Ronald Blumer
Executive Producer for TPT: Catherine Allan

Featured Cast

Benjamin Franklin Philip Bosco
Everett Larkin Michael Cumpsty
Sgt. Roger Lamb Marcus D’amico
John Adams Peter Donaldson
Alexander Hamilton Colm Feore
John Dickinson Victor Garber
Samuel Adams Peter Gerety
King George III Alex Jennings
Jehu Grant Mel Johnson, Jr.
Joseph Plumb Martin Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Ambrose Serle Simon Jones
Gen. John Burgoyne Terrence Mann
Mercy Otis Warren Roberta Maxwell
Abigail Adams Donna Murphy
Patrick Henry James Naughton
Benjamin Rush Austin Pendleton
Thomas Paine Roger Rees
Marquis De Lafayette Sebastian Roche
Thomas Jefferson Campbell Scott
George Washington Stephen Lang

Host: Forrest Sawyer
Narrator: Edward Herrmann
Co-Producers: Ronald Blumer, Sharon Sachs

Editors:
Show 1: Josh Waletsky With Molly Bernstein
Show 2: Sharon Sachs
Show 3: Sharon Sachs with Molly Bernstein
Show 4: Sharon Sachs, Alison Ellwood with Molly   Bernstein
Show 5: Sharon Sachs
Show 6: Josh Waletsky
Director of Photography: Tom Hurwitz
Production Designer Andrew Jackness
Costume Designer Candice Donnelly
Sound: Roger Phenix
Music: Richard Einhorn, Mark O’Connor
Featured Musicians: Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, James Taylor, The Nashville Symphony
Soundtrack release: Sony Classical

A Middlemarch Films production for Twin Cities Public Television

Purchase

shopPBS.org

Reviews

Producer/directors Muffie Meyer and Ellen Hovde and writer Ronald Blumer–who drew from letters, diaries, newspapers and documents of the time to script this epic–show how these snobbish patricians mainly concerned with their status (and feeling deeply inferior to the English aristocracy) were transformed by events and their own strong characters into champions of the people.
Lloyd Grove, Washington Post

It’s exciting, it’s suspenseful, it’s a big Boston Tea Party of a PBS event. So give me Liberty! or give me nothing! This documentary about the Revolution is that dazzling — a great old story retold smartly and captivatingly… (the series) affirms how much of a kick history can be.
Howard Rosenberg, Los Angeles Times

Listening to the words of men like Benjamin Franklin and James Madison after watching the Sunday morning politician interview shows, you may wonder where the eloquence of American statesmen has gone. But even the Founders could falter. What can Boston’s John Adams (Peter Donaldson) have been thinking of when he said about New Yorkers, “They all talk very fast, very loud and altogether without paying any attention to each other. Nobody has any manners here.” It was Adams, too, who reflected at the First Continental Congress, “We don’t have men fit for these times.” Liberty!, which covers eight years of diplomacy, war and suffering, and ends with the ratification of the Constitution, proves how wrong even he could be.
Walter Goodman, New York Times

This is the best TV history lesson since Ken Burns re-fought the Civil War. It’s a gift to all ages and stages of Americans, native or new… If only Liberty! had been around when I went to school.
Ann Hodges, Houston Chronicle

The Middlemarch people…have taken the musty smell of the archives out of history. They have gone beyond the visits to the Disney-like colonial-period restorations… They are interested in human interconnection and have managed to breath life into the cardboard figures we all learned about in our fifth-grade classrooms… What a story!
Marvin Kitman, Newsday

Ken Burns, meet Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. When in the pursuit of a new documentary to make, you might learn a thing or two from them. Hovde and Meyer have produced and directed Liberty! The American Revolution, an engrossing six-hour documentary that brings history to life and makes real people out of our often mythical founding fathers.
Al Brumley, The Dallas Morning News

Liberty! leaves you amazed by the people who fought for and shaped our country. They made some horrible mistakes, but most of the choices they made were almost miraculously right; including cutting loose from those stiffs on the English throne. Watch the royals if you want, but save some time to honor the people who made sure royalty-watching was sport rather than an obligation.
Robert Bianco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

…this offering presents our country’s founding upheaval as it really was – a close run thing marked as much by incompetence, fear, betrayal and brutality as it was by glorious victory and lofty ideals, a struggle in which far more Colonial Americans were opposed or indifferent to the rebellion than supported it. This was a struggle in which far less greatness and glory appends to the American military triumph than to what a handful of unusual men (and women) were able to do with independence once they had won.
Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune

Liberty! offers an exhilarating history lesson. Producer-directors Muffie Meyer and Ellen Hovde have met a daunting challenge with ingenuity…they have to supply visuals for a war before photography. They use drawings, paintings and maps, but they take another step to make the Revolutionary patriots more accessible. Where (Ken) Burns used actors’ voices to intone the words of Civil War figures, Liberty! puts actors … in period costumes and has them deliver fact-based soliloquies to the camera. … In another program, it might be sacrilege to offer history on such terms. But here the style makes that time, from 1763 to 1789, come vibrantly to life.
Hal Boedeker, Orlando Sentinel

Liberty! The American Revolution delivers six hours of smashing entertainment. The score is by Richard Einhorn and Grammy Winning violinist Mark O’Conner, who performs with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, trumpet player Wynton Marsalis and the Nashville Symphony…Liberty!’s strength is its ability to package its wealth of information and insights into a riveting production that plays as suspenseful drama while illuminating the most important period in American history.
Tom Jicha, Sun-Sentinel

…alive with human intellect, foibles, anxiety, anger, passion and humor. Inevitably incomplete but consistently surprising, Liberty! The American Revolution is an engrossing drama and an irresistible enticement to learn more. … The contributing historians – including women, blacks and Indians – describe events with such urgency you would think they happened yesterday. Some of the British scholars who explain the Tory side sound as if they’re still annoyed with us.
The most pleasant surprise…is how Liberty! contradicts conventional TV wisdom. The medium supposedly is partial to action and uncomfortable with ideas. But Liberty! is, if anything, more compelling when it’s concerned with the concepts of freedom and self-government than when it’s showing reenactments of patriots ambushing redcoats. Let that be another lesson to us.
Noel Holston, Minneapolis Star Tribune