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One of the obsessive speculations in American history is whether Thomas Jefferson, in the years before he became president, had an affair with (and fathered a child with) his 15-year-old slave Sally Hemings. JEFFERSON IN PARIS follows Jefferson to France (as the U.S. ambassador to the court of Louis XVI), following the death of his wife his friendships and flirtations with the French, his relationship with his daughters and slaves from home (especially Sally), against the backdrop of the beginning of the French Revolution. Written by
Michael C. Berch <email@example.com>
I've enjoyed several earlier Merchant-Ivory films very much: Remains of the Day, Howard's End, Maurice. But this one, though it has all the same basic ingredients - director, script writer - left me flat. It moved far too slowly, and never caught me up in Jefferson the man - though I have always found Jefferson very interesting. We never see any conflict in Jefferson between his supposed vows to stay faithful to his first, deceased wife and then his feelings for either Maria Cosway or Sally Hemmings. Indeed, we really get very little sense of his feelings for Hemmings at all, and certainly they would have been complex. Nor do we ever learn why Jefferson's older daughter wants to convert to Catholicism - that, too, given her upbringing, would have caused conflicting emotions. There is also very little connect between Jefferson and the Revolution getting underway. The costumes and sets are all very beautiful, of course, and no doubt very well-researched. But I got no sense of Jefferson from this movie. (I leave to one side the issue of whether Jefferson did actually father Hemmings' children; this isn't a documentary, so that's not relevant.)
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