‘It was the best of times; it was the worse of times’. These simple words opened Charles Dickens Tale of Two Cities set on the tumult of the one French Revolution.
Considered almost unanimously one of the most significant events in the course of modern history this was a true turning point in how men would be governed. It would forever affect how men would see the monarchy, the aristocrats and the Catholic Church. As with most such earth shacking times there was a bloody cost to be had for these changes and this documentary provides us in this modern era a look back. Encouraged by the revolution of the British colonies in the New World the people of France found themselves ready for radical changes. A few men of influence, incredible orators such as Maximillien Robespierre could bring fear to entire towns with a few well placed words. These men would unleash a juggernaut upon France, one that would sweep away the foundations of their society and eventual turn on its own.
Before The French Revolution life was rather black and white. For most living was in absolute squalor, the poor managed whatever meager existence they could living in filth, facing each day hungry and destitute. In a stark contrast the upper class lived among gold and fine satin. The king’s palace, Versailles was a tribute to opulence and decadence that these privileged few felt was their birthright. There was a strict caste system at work in France, you where part of one of three estates. The first estate was the church, with their own internal hierarchy of priests, bishops and cardinals they kept the records, controlled literacy and dominated the affairs of men and nations. The second estate was the aristocrats, the nobility. They held the highest positions in both the church and the government. You could not aspire to work to become a noble, in almost all cases you had to be born as one. Last there was the third estate, like the other two estates there were factions within this caste, at the top where the merchants and bankers, forever stuck at the bottom where the common poor.
The French Revolution documentary starts before The French Revolution took place. In true History Channel form they go beyond the text book causes and examine the underlying stresses and events that would break this society to pieces. An example is the way a 15 year old boy, Louis was to marry a pretty blonde hair girl named Marie Antoinette. This was to join two royal households and typically the common man would pay little attention to such society news, they had enough just to keep alive. The royals may have felt that they where born at the will of God to rule but they there incredibly bad at the most mundane managerial decisions, this mismanagement lead to critical food shortages, the lack of the most fundamental public sanitation and a growing hatred for the crown by its subjects. The French Revolution documentary shows how the stage was set. Reasonable men where being pushed beyond any reasonable action and the seeds of The French Revolution where planted.
It is interesting how The French Revolution feature demonstrates how various seemingly unrelated events actual work together to form the basis for The French Revolution. A war between France and England for land in the New World was lost by the French, almost bringing the country to bankruptcy. Pandemic diseases like the plague no longer killed a significant portion of the population. As resources became fewer more and more people where born and survived childhood, more mouths to feed each day and less available with which to feed them. The division between the rich and poor was greater than ever. In France at this time you either lived in ridiculous opulence or horrid poverty, there was virtually no middle ground.
The lynchpin that brought about The French Revolution was the coronation of Louise the XVI as king of France. Ill prepared to rule a country, especially one in such disarray, the gap between ‘have’ and ‘have nots’ widens. Meanwhile, in Paris a new movement begins, the age of enlightenment. Ideas from the recently freed United States of America have worked their way to Paris being ideas of freedom, self rule and rights for all men. Long before The French Revolution would pour into the blood filled streets it fermented in the minds of men throughout France, the monarchy was facing a sever challenge to what they considered their God given rights.
The costs of basic items such as flour go far beyond the reach of the common family While the royals dined with the finest treats in the world most of France faced starvation. The fuse was finally lit and with a population that felt they had absolutely nothing to lose the French revolution was born.
The History Channel has undergone a revision in the past few years. A network that was known for old news clips of Word War Two has become not only one of the most educational channels on your cable line up it is one of the most entertaining as well. While so much attention is paid to reality shows of dubious quality and integrity shows like The French Revolution provide a look at what real people did and felt while always entertaining their audience. Like other entries in the series of shows from the History channel The French Revolution is a delight to watch.
The basic format is the same as other shows. After all why change something that works so well. Well done re-enactments are mixed with the famous talking heads of experts in the field. Instead of dry academics the History channel makes an effort to find people that are not only a wealth of knowledge in what they are talking about but also they have a good screen presence, able to hold the attention of the audience. While watching two hours about the French revolution may not have been at the top of your must see list you will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of this presentation. The History channel consistently provides value that the whole family can appreciate. Instead of watching some show about people looking for a mate or being forced to eat horrible food watch something that will actually enrich you!
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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