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France-Set Historical Drama is Void of Electricity

France-Set Historical Drama is Void of Electricity


  • Rich in detail, but lacks believability in Michael Douglas’ performance as Benjamin Franklin.
  • Large supporting cast makes it hard to keep track of characters and their significance.
  • Despite eye-catching visuals, Franklin fails to fully capture the urgency and tension of Franklin’s mission.

There are moments while watching Franklin, Apple TV’s eight-part tale about Benjamin Franklin’s 1776 quest to lure France to underwrite American democracy, that begs a revisit to John Adams. The 2008 HBO Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning miniseries simply came alive with its exceptional narrative, art direction, and commanding performances from Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers) — in the titular role — and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams.

At first glance, Franklin appears to offer something similar, considering one of the writers was attached to John Adams: a stellar cast, a deep dive into a fascinating time in history, and lavish set pieces. The outing has the look and feel of something grand, marvelous, and detailed — down to the finest hair strands on all those wigs, in fact. However, Franklin never fully grabs you, nor keeps you invested in its world and the high stakes involved. Worse — dare we even say it? — Michael Douglas isn’t fully believable in the role. There’s no sense of losing oneself in the performance or fully embodying the persona of Benjamin Franklin. What we’re left with is Michael Douglas, as marvelous as he is, being Michael Douglas, dressed up as Ben Franklin.

Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff’s book, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, we have prolific director/executive producer Tim Van Patten (Masters of Air, Black Mirror), and writers Kirk Ellis (John Adams) and Howard Korder (Boardwalk Empire) at the helm. This team is among some of the finest storytellers we have today, but in Franklin, there is a misstep. The creative threads never feel fully weaved together and there is a loss of feeling the true scope and urgency of Franklin’s mission, which stretched into an eight-year endeavor to gain American independence from Britain. Diehard fans of historical dramas may not blink an eye — there is plenty of eye candy and historical footnoting — but is that enough?

A Lot of Fuss, Not Enough Believability




Release Date
April 12, 2024


Streaming Service(s)
Apple TV+


  • Rich in period detail
  • Comfortable watching
  • A stand out performance from Eddie Marsan

  • Michael Douglas doesn’t disappear into the role
  • Supporting cast is too large to keep track of
  • Lacking in chemistry between the actors

The miniseries begins with Benjamin Franklin taking a huge gamble. In December 1776, already world-famous for discovering electricity, the man sails to France on a secret mission while American independence teeters. The American Revolution is underway, of course, and despite the signing of the Declaration of Independence, American colonies are not in the clear from British forces yet. Franklin is 70 at this point in his life, and while he’s a confident man, he lacks the diplomatic prowess needed to convince France’s monarchy to back America’s democracy “experiment.”

That’s a good if not true-to-life-hook for the miniseries. So is having Franklin’s nephew, Temple Franklin (Noah Jupe of A Quiet Place), on board. Temple accompanies Franklin on this journey, giving the miniseries a way to explore two main characters moving through their individual challenges: Franklin plotting and hopefully acquiring French support; Temple deciding to make a name for himself in society.

It’s not all work no play, however. The fellows don’t shy away from flirting or bonding with like-minded souls. Franklin is charmed by Anne Louise Brillon de Juoy (Ludivine Sagnier offering a lovely turn). Temple is intrigued by the idealism he sees in revolutionaries of the day, such as Gilbert du Motier (Théodore Pellerin of On Becoming a God in Central Florida). The script affords each character lines that explain their intentions and pursuits. Jupe’s performance feels more relatable overall. Meanwhile, the miniseries is filled to the brim with so many side players that it’s hard to keep track of them all and understand why they truly matter.

The High Points

Apple TV

Michael Douglas is one of the executive producers of Franklin, joining a long list of people dedicated to assuring the success of the Apple TV drama. Collectively, the team creates a sumptuous period piece, which captures French society with finesse and detail.

The series gains traction when British spies enter the game in an effort to thwart Franklin’s mission and possibly find a way for America to settle for less in the political upheaval. There’s an interesting turn as Franklin’s “trusted” physician Edward Bancroft (Daniel Mays of Temple) winds up being a slick double agent. Other fine moments come in the form of the wonderful Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) who arrives on the scene as a tightly wound John Adams. Relish the friction between Franklin and Adams, who is not at all impressed with how the man is handling things in France.


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Michael Douglas has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years. The lauded actor has been honored on several occasions for his performances.

What Went Wrong?

Apple TV

As the episodes play out, the writers whisk viewers through a bevy of scenes and scenarios featuring anybody and everybody the two Franklins interact with, but to what end? Most of it seems superfluous to the story… a kind of filling up space until we land on major historical markers, namely the Treaty of Alliance, which was signed in 1778, creating an American-Franco military alliance against Great Britain.

Two recent historical dramas — Star’z brilliant Mary & George, and Apple TV’s Manhunt — fare better with their narratives than Franklin. There’s a lot at stake here, you see. Except, this series never truly makes you feel that tension. Beyond that, history books tell us Franklin was charismatic and witty. That’s dulled down in the writing here, although Michael Douglas possesses a unique smirk and glimmer in the eye, making his portrayal, if not fully “believable,” at least acceptable and recognizable.


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That said, the outing is a comfortable place to land, just don’t expect too much from it. It does, however, stir interest in the time period, and how Franklin emerged as one of the country’s more prominent historical figures. It wasn’t all about electricity. And maybe that’s enough to offer for something of this ilk. Beyond that, it stirs interest in Stacy Schiff’s tome, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, which, by the look of this series, would be a grand book to cozy up to. Franklin streams on Apple TV+ on April 12.

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