Everyone knows about the kite and the key, the Declaration of Independence, and Poor Richard's Almanac
, but nonscholars will find much to learn in this documentary tracing the epic of Benjamin Franklin's life. Using actors Dylan Baker and Richard Easton as Franklin speaking his own words, the makers of this PBS offering bring his writings to life without resorting to corny dramatizations. The documentary first explores his education as a minister, career as a printer, and retirement to a life of science at the age of 47. The second part explores his transformation to revolutionary: his life in England and eventual rejection of its domination, the resulting painful split with his son, and his colonial radicalism at age 70. The final chapter of his life takes place in France, where he operates with subterfuge to win France's support against the English and more or less invents diplomacy. --Kimberly Heinrichs
Now in his 70s, Franklin is the oldest revolutionary leader. Congress sends Franklin to France in an effort to secure an alliance with England's rival; Franklin's political skills help him coax the French to support the American cause, leading to final American victory at Yorktown. With peace secured, Franklin returns home. Two years later, an ailing Franklin enters the constitutional convention to guide rancorous delegates.