Cast: William Daniels, Howard da Silva, Ken Howard, John Cullum, Blythe Danner,
Virginia Vestoff, Roy Poole
Writers: Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards
Director: Peter H. Hunt
Theatrical release: 1972; DVD release: 2002
1776 is the most rousing and spirited presentation of the First Continental Congress and the writing of the Declaration of Independence you've ever seen. Not sure history can be fun? Take a look at this film.
Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, 1776 was created in the run-up to the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration in the United States and remains a perpetually engaging piece of work. Yes, I'm a fan of musical theatre, but that's not a requirement for enjoying this film. The music blends so well and the lyrics are as pithy and pointed as the dialogue that you'll barely recognize the transition from speech to song.
You'll also recognize many wonderful actors, albeit in much earlier incarnations, including William Daniels (of TV's St. Elsewhere and a multitude of other roles) as John Adams, Howard da Silva (the distinguished character actor who will always be the "real" lightning bug) as Benjamin Franklin, a red-haired and much slimmer Ken Howard (of TV's White Shadow, 30 Rock, and more), and Blythe Danner (now more well-known as Gwyneth Paltrow's mother and producer Steven Paltrow's widow) as Martha Jefferson. While they all earned their chops on Broadway's musical stage — and many, in the same roles in the same play — the youngsters among us might say about their ability to sing, who knew?
While 1776 (the movie and play) is not only an incredibly fun — and reasonably accurate — portrayal of our country's beginnings, a more thorough and no less engaging exploration of America's break from England and its founding as a country can be found in the PBS series Liberty: The American Revolution. Created by Twin Cities Public Television in the late 1990s (to mark the new millennium?), this "dramatic documentary" looks at "the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation." Check the PBS/Liberty website, where you'll find the usual range of notes about the scholars behind the words, teacher guides, companion products, and useful resources and links. Go. Explore. Learn.
Any time those of us in the United States prepare for another national election, we do well to remember the unique nature of our constitutional representative democracy, including the responsibility it requires from each one of us to be engaged and informed citizens. Take inspiration from 1776 and Liberty. You'll see there's no better time than the present to get involved.