Art and culture

Michael Douglas Miniseries Is A Bore 

When pondering the Revolutionary War, specific inflection points come to mind. The Boston Massacre of 1770, Paul Revere’s midnight warning in 1775 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are often the main topics of conversation. However, much more went on during the nearly two-decade-long battle that led to the 13 colonies’ independence from England. Adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff’s novel, “A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America,” Apple TV+‘s “Franklin” recounts inventor Benjamin Franklin’s eight-year mission in France where he schemed and plotted to foster a Franco-American alliance. What should be a sparkling recounting of a pivotal moment in U.S. history is flattened, becoming a mind-numbing and belabored affair of wig-wearing men shouting at each other in dark rooms.

Created by Kirk Ellis and Howard Korder, the series opens in December 1776. Though the Declaration of Independence had been signed three months prior, the fledgling republic was on the brink of collapse. Due to sparse funding and a paltry 3,000 soldiers trying to stand against Britain’s formidable forces, the Continental Congress was running out of options. Franklin (Michael Douglas), a publisher and an intellectual, was America’s last hope. Landing on the shores of Brittany, France, the statesman and his grandson, Temple (Noah Jupe), embark on a mission to politically and financially lure French diplomats to America’s side. While the pair hoped to set up shop in Paris quietly, the 70-year-old scientist’s celebrity immediately put a massive wrinkle in their plans, forcing them to use different tactics.

“Franklin” sheds light on little-known aspects of the American Revolution and Franklin’s life, but this account is best left to savor between the pages of Schiff’s book. Across eight episodes stuffed full of dull monologues in a country 3,000 miles away from the action of the war, the philosopher’s quest feels both self-serving and arrogant. Douglas tries to infuse humor in the role, highlighting Franklin’s various ailments – including his bouts of gout, along with his terrible grasp of the French language. Still, these interjections fail to break through the monotony of the show. Additionally, while much of “Franklin” focuses on the polymaths’s relationship with Temple, a good chunk of the narrative involves the duo being at odds. As the 19-year-old moves toward manhood, his grandfather’s shaky guidance and trauma of his own father’s incarceration lead to more than a few cringe-worthy outbursts.

Moreover, the series’ sluggish tone fails to capture how ingenious Franklin had to be to entice the French under the guise of a future even he couldn’t see clearly yet. In addition to Franklin and Temple, there are countless figures to keep track of. There are the Chaumonts who house and feed Franklin and others to their financial detriment. Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes (Thibault de Montalembert), reluctantly works to convince King Louis XVI to come to America’s aid. Also, the dejected Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy (Ludivine Sagnier) seeks solace in Franklin’s company in the wake of her husband’s flagrant extramarital affairs. The vast plot points and storylines muddle the central message of the show instead of fortifying it.

Despite the density of “Franklin,” it is beautifully textured, a true testament to the incredible craftsmen on the project. Dan Weil’s production design and Benedicte Joffre’s set decoration immaculately and easily transport the viewer into the opulence of Marie Antoinette’s era. From Versailles to Passy, each location is intricately detailed and styled. The costuming of Olivier Bériot and the hair and makeup on Hochet Adeline, Alessandro Bertolazzi and Liz Ann Bowden produce some breathtaking visuals. One, in particular, involves a towering curled wig and a golden sailboat mounted on top of it.

While “Franklin” trails through the novice diplomat’s prolonged stint in France, where he used his laissez-faire attitude to thwart British spies and persuade the French to fork over a staggering $9 billion in today’s currency, Douglas and the series overall never showcase the charm and ingenuity the Founding Father had to have possessed to pull off this massive feat. Instead, the constant battles of will between himself and other diplomats, including would-be President John Adams (Eddie Marsan), make it almost astounding that America did indeed come to be.

The first three episodes of “Franklin” premiere on April 12 on Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping weekly on Fridays.

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  • Source of information and images “variety “

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