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TV Show Review: The French Revolution


Viewing Level

Ages 13–18

On the Web
The French Revolution interactive site
Fun Game and Quiz
On This Site
The French Revolution
Strong Warning: Parts of this show not appropriate for younger viewers.

The latest documentary from the History Channel focuses on the French Revolution. It premieres on Monday, January 17, at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Times.

It could be argued that this presentation borders on the sensational, but then sensational was exactly what the French Revolution was. It was a tumultous time in the history of France and of Europe, and it morphed from hatred of the aristocracy to a frightening appreciation for the power of the guillotine. Thousands of people were beheaded in a terrifying show of force and power by a relatively small number of people over the masses, who were only too happy to oblige with acquiesence.

The Revolution devolved into the Reign of Terror, a long and bloody affair that eventually consumed even its own leaders. Time and again, quick (rigged, actually) trials ended in verdicts of guilt against the state, which meant treason, which meant death, which meant a beheading. And although the program doesn't show an actual beheading, we the viewers see everything but, including drops of blood from the basket set below the blade to catch the head. (This scene, which is shown several times, is definitely not for younger viewers.)

Speaking of not being for younger viewers, another element of the maudlin tale of King Louis XVI involves his inability to produce an heir. The program goes into rather graphic detail as to why. Younger viewers should be steered away from this storyline as well, which is referenced not once but twice.

Those warnings aside, this is an excellent introduction to or refresher of the details and the passion of the French Revolution. All the major characters are referenced, with particular attention being paid, as it should, to Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat. The historical re-enactors very nearly match their historical counterparts (with the actor playing Robespierre bearing an especially resemblance to the real thing). The program does an excellent job of explaining the economic and social realities of the time period, for both the upper and lower classes. It does not shy away from the Revolution's eventual attempt to destroy the Catholic Church, as many accounts of this time period do.

For many people, the French Revolution is a subject that is poorly understood. This program, with its rich visuals and solid commentary from learned historians, is a great help to understanding a period in history in which a few people tipped the balance between tolerance and insanity, between life and death, between love and disaster.

If you are an adult, definitely tune in. You will learn something, no matter how much you already know about the subject; and you will learn a great deal if all you know is that Marie Antoinette once allegedly said, "Let them eat cake." If you intend to watch this program with younger viewers, however, be aware of the graphic nature of two of the subject areas.

The History Channel website has a fun baseball-like game called Cake Revolt and also a trivia quiz. Click here for both.


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