The complicated life of Thomas Jefferson is the subject of this excellent documentary by noted filmmaker Ken Burns. Using techniques that will seem comfortably familiar to viewers of other films by Burns, historians and writers (including Joseph Ellis, Daniel Boorstin, Garry Wills, and Gore Vidal) appear on camera to speak about Jefferson, a cast of actors read the words of Jefferson and others. The visuals include beautifully photographed shots of Jefferson’s famed estate, Monticello, other locations where Jefferson lived and worked, and a vast number of period drawings and paintings. Jefferson, who was born into a prosperous Virginia family but lost his father when he was young, became a skilled lawyer despite his natural shyness. And the story of how he became a public figure and rose to prominence during the American Revolution is told intelligently. Commentators, including the noted African American historian John Hope Franklin, grapple with the peculiar inconsistencies of Jefferson’s life. The man who wrote the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, and some of what he wrote about race is both troubling and puzzling. This film (which covers Jefferson’s entire life, including his two terms as the young country’s president and his later years in Virginia) doesn’t sidestep controversy but provides a balanced account of one of the most fascinating of all Americans. –Robert J. McNamara
Directors: Ken Burns
Format: Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: PBS Paramount
DVD Release Date: September 28, 2004
Run Time: 180 minutes
Buy the DVD here.
If you’re willing to fight for Main Street America, click here to sign up for my free weekly email.