Now Streaming: FRANKLIN, Tim Van Patten Elevates Historical Series

Michael Douglas stars as Benjamin Franklin, celebrity diplomat, in the limited series, debuting globally on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Now Streaming: FRANKLIN, Tim Van Patten Elevates Historical Series

How do you say diplomat in French?

The first three episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+ . Subsequent episodes will debut every Friday. I've seen all eight episodes of the limited series.

Michael Douglas, now 79 years of age, stars in the latest historical series on Apple TV+, joining the excellent Manhunt, nearing the end of its run on the streaming service.

As the 70-something, French-speaking Benjamin Franklin, who arrives in Paris to conduct "secret" negotiations to secure the assistance of the French government, Douglas leans into the role with relish, bringing the character to vivid life. The real star of the series, though, is director Tim Van Patten, who elevates the drama with his steady, experienced hand.

The camera often glides through otherwise straightforward scenes of talking heads engaged in diplomatic negotiations, even as elegantly-costumed players flit about their days and nights in studied ease and arrogant snobbery. I've been enjoying Van Patten's artistry during a recent rewatch of The Sopranos, but his touch is also evident in many others he's directed, including Boardwalk Empire and Perry Mason, to name just two that come to mind.

Van Patten directed all eight episodes, which were all written by Kirk Ellis and Howard Korder, based on Stacy Schiff's A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. Ellis cut his teeth on genre films before moving to dramatic series, often adapted from books, such as John Adams, based on David McCullough's book, which featured Paul Giamatti as John Adams and included on episode on Adams' trip to France and his encounter with Benjamin Franklin, played by Tom Wilkinson.

The first three episodes cover Franklin's arrival in France, accompanied by his grandson, Temple (Noah Jupe). Franklin is often in the company of his good friend, the British Edward Bancroft (Daniel Mays).

They are provided with hospitality by Charles Gravier (Thibault de Montalembert), a government official. Franklin is quite friendly with the ladies, especially Mdme. Brillon (Ludivine Sagnier), and spends much time worrying about his grandson.

With these primary players in place, the series moves around between them as it recounts events in France (and America) during the late 1770s, and also adds more players to the mix, some begrudgingly supportive, some actively antagonistic. All this takes place, mostly, in gorgeous surroundings, though some time is also spent in less hospitable settings, including the streets and harbors of the period, all rendered with great details and many, many extras.

In the initial episodes, it can feel a bit studied; some of the dialogue is awkward, and some sounds like it is taken directly from the book, or a book of famous quotes. It doesn't always flow in a conversational manner, even for the 18th century.

Yet it keeps moving, despite its tendency to feel like a book that wants to get all the facts straight. I'm sure those who are more interested in such things will find reasons to complain or contest. As it plays out, though, I found myself becoming increasingly caught up in the drama, even though much of it is simply people talking, with few action sequences.

Instead, nearly the action all comes through words. The performances are very good. The direction is outstanding. I'm not sure how the British or the French would feel about it, but as a non-partisan viewer, I was quite satisfied.

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Apple TV+Daniel MaysKirk EllisMichael DouglasNoah JupeTim Van Patten

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