Picks and Pans Review: Thomas Jefferson

UPDATED 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Tues.-Wed., Feb. 18-19, 9 p.m. ET)


A solitary figure on horseback, with a sunset as backdrop: This isn't John Wayne, but director Ken Burns's symbolic image of our third President. Burns's Jefferson may come from the Age of Enlightenment, but he is really a romantic: content to be at Monticello, tinkering; tormented by grief (only one of his six children outlived him); and, quill pen in hand, articulating his vision of an agrarian society. Which is not to say that this 3-hour documentary ignores Jefferson's uglier qualities. His political battles with Alexander Hamilton, champion of a much stronger government, were ferocious. And the lover of liberty owned slaves all his life. One of them, Sally Hemings, may have been his mistress.

As is usual with Burns, he has enlisted a fine cast of commentators—Gore Vidal, Garry Wills and Daniel Boorstin among them—and put together a solidly informative program. But I got tired of the wistful flute-and-fiddle music, the stars reading historic correspondence in self-consciously quiet voice-overs (Sam Waterston is TJ) and all the sunsets. Too pretty.

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