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The French Revolution (2005) – DVD Review

French Revolution History Channel


Written by Thomas Emil, Doug Shultz, and Hilary Sio
Directed by Doug Shultz
Narrated by Edward Herrmann


  • Making-of featurette

Released by: A&E
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent it if you want a crash course in the French Revolution; otherwise, catch a rerun on the History Channel.

In July of 1789, a mob of angry Parisians stormed and demolished the Bastille, an act which was a long time in coming due to the impotent rule of their king, Louis XVI. Their fervor sparked one of the bloodiest revolutions in history. Led by Robespierre and other men of the Enlightenment, what started as a fight against an ineffective monarchy devolved into a police-state-sanctioned bloodbath known as the Terror. The heads of many suspected traitors rolled from the blade of the guillotine, including those of the king and his queen, Marie Antoinette. When the bloodshed of the Terror had finally ceased, Robespierre himself had fallen to the guillotine and the people of France were able to adjust to a new government without the fear of losing their heads… until Napoleon Bonaparte found his way to power…

[ad#longpost]The History Channel does a very good job of summarizing the French Revolution. The film has a narration by Edward Herrmann as well as commentary from various French and American historians. It deals not only with the revolution and the terror, but the rise of Louis XVI and his marriage to Marie Antoinette, and how his incompetence as a ruler led directly to the storming of the Bastille and all that followed it. It also deals with the different factions within the revolutionaries and how a group that wrote The Rights of Man fell to endorsing a totalitarian state in which no one was able to keep these rights. While there is not time for copious amounts of detail, this documentary presents a solid rundown of what happened and is a good base on which to study the details on your own.

Where the documentary loses its charm is in the production values. I understand that their budget was tight, but there are ways to work around that. While there were quite a few re-enactments, the same footage was reused again and again. If they only had a small amount of footage with their actors, they could have filled in more time using the beautiful period artwork in the film for a greater variety of images. Instead of using the same scene of a mob running out of a doorway ten times, maybe it would have been nicer to throw in some artwork of a mob a few times instead.

The star of The French Revolution from A&E

The featurette, while occasionally presenting behind-the-scenes information, was mostly a summary of the documentary with some crazy MTV-esque camera shots thrown in. There were some very interesting bits in which a woman stood at different sites in modern Paris and pointed out where key events happened, such as the site of the Bastille and of Marie Antoinette’s execution. There were also a few scenes about the process of filming. The director talked about some of the locations, and about how to make a mob of thirty people seem like a couple hundred, and one of the re-enactment actresses briefly discussed her costume and wig (which were improved greatly in the final production by a soft lens). The featurette added a bit to the documentary, but it would have been much better without so much ‘plot’ summary and without the crazy cinematography between scenes.

In short, this film is worth a rental if you have a specific reason for wanting a bit of knowledge about the French Revolution. If not, catch it on a rerun on the History Channel, or wait for something with a bit more detail and a bigger budget (or a more creative production team).

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