“Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us,” says one historian early on in this informative educational video. Beginning with his birth in Massachusetts in 1706 – as the 10th boy of 17 children, who ran away at the age of 17 to start his own life – this history channel “instant expert” guide walks viewers through the life of Benjamin Franklin. From his early work in his brother’s printing shop to his entrepreneurship to his work with electricity and the invention of the lightning rod (which he never patented) to his notorious ways with women to his political work which led towards the creation of the United States of America, viewers will come away with a solid overview of Franklin’s life and plenty of interesting informational tidbits.
Described with varying terms along the lines of “complex and enigmatic” throughout the film, a bevy of historians (authors, professors, and other experts) seek to peel back the mystery behind the nearly mythological man. As he grows from a self-made entrepreneur to one of the most famous men in the world, even he feels the urge to revel in his own popularity, writing to his children to tell them that “your father’s face is now as well-known as that of the moon.” One of the most interesting parts of this documentary is that the film delves into Franklin’s personal life – looking over his failures as a father and husband and his admiring letters to female “friends.”
Most importantly to American History buffs, the film details Franklin’s switch from loyal British subject, including a post as a lobbyist from Pennsylvania towards the British Parliament, to one of the founding fathers. One historian explains this change by saying “Thinking men find their ideas evolve and change.” In addition, the final 10 minutes or so are dedicated towards Franklin’s work on the Constitution – including inspiring the states to join together as one union (with what is often considered the first political cartoon) and ensuring the separation of church and state.
The DVD includes an insert with a brief study guide that gives an overview of Franklin’s history and then lists “Extended Activities” and “Discussion Questions” such as “What is the Gulf Stream, and how did Franklin ‘discover’ it?” This study guide seems especially helpful to anyone hoping to use the film as an educational tool.
Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: History buffs – or anyone with a passing interest in Benjamin Franklin
Stay Away if: You’re looking for a “John Adams” style show
To purchase Instant Expert: Ben Franklin, visit Amazon