The True Story of Apple TV+’s Franklin, Explained

‘Franklin,’ a historical drama on Apple TV+, transports audiences to the late 1770s amidst the backdrop of American independence. Focused on Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers, the series highlights his role as a commissioner sent to France to rally support for the American Revolution. Amidst the complexities of British spies and French informers, the 70-year-old Franklin navigates political intrigue, ultimately securing crucial backing for the newly formed United States of America.

Directed by Timothy Van Patten, the series explores the dynamic between Benjamin Franklin and his 16-year-old grandson, William Temple Franklin, who accompanies him on his mission to France. It offers a fresh perspective on their relationship and how it grows over the years they spend in France. With its rich historical context, uncovering the real events and stories that inspired the series makes it quite interesting to watch.

The Historically Accurate Characters and Stories of Franklin

Drawing inspiration from Stacy Schiff’s 2005 book, ‘A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America,’ writers Kirk Ellis and Howard Korder have strived to imbue the series with historical authenticity. Set in 1776, the narrative unfolds with Benjamin Franklin’s revered status within American society and across the globe as a scholar, inventor, scientist, and political luminary. Sent to France as a commissioner, Franklin is accompanied by his two grandsons: 16-year-old William Temple Franklin and 7-year-old Benjamin Franklin Bache, both of whom are real people.

Benjamin Franklin//Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The series emphasizes the character of Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, the French foreign minister during Franklin’s time in France. Gravier was known for his astute diplomatic skills and deep understanding of international relations. He recognized Franklin’s value as an ally for France in the American Revolution and formed a strong personal bond with him. Their friendship and mutual respect afforded Franklin a level of influence and flexibility that other diplomats did not enjoy.

The series also shows the importance of the Battle of Saratoga as an essential moment in history, particularly for Franco-American relations. In 1777, this decisive battle marked a turning point in the American Revolutionary War. The American victory, led by General Horatio Gates and bolstered by the strategic brilliance of General Benedict Arnold, not only dealt a significant blow to British forces but also showcased the military prowess of the American Continental Army. Notably, the triumph at Saratoga proved instrumental in persuading France to formally ally with the American colonies against their common enemy, Great Britain. This alliance proved crucial in tipping the scales of the conflict in favor of the fledgling United States.

William Temple Franklin//Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The signing of the Treaty of Alliance in 1778 is a climactic peak in the series, encapsulating a critical moment in American Revolutionary War history and Franco-American relations. Negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, among others, this treaty solidified a formal military alliance between the United States and France, marking a significant turning point in the conflict against Great Britain. Under the treaty’s terms, France pledged military support to the American colonies, including naval assistance and financial aid.

In return, the United States committed to pursuing independence from British rule. This alliance provided military reinforcements to the Continental Army. It signaled France’s official recognition of American sovereignty, reshaping the war dynamics and laying the groundwork for future diplomatic and military cooperation between the two nations. The Treaty of Alliance is a testament to Franklin’s diplomatic prowess and strategic vision, underscoring his indispensable role in securing vital international support for the American cause.

The series explores Benjamin Franklin’s relationships during his time in France, offering insight into his social interactions beyond diplomacy. Franklin formed a close bond with the esteemed aristocrat Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, whose estate in Passy served as Franklin’s residence during his stay. Le Ray de Chaumont, a prominent figure in French society, provided Franklin with a hospitable and tranquil environment amidst the bustling city of Paris.

Additionally, the series explores Franklin’s relationship with Madame Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy, a married neighbor of considerable influence and refinement. Madame Brillon, renowned for her musical talents and esteemed position in Parisian circles, shared a deep friendship with Franklin. Their bond was characterized by mutual respect, intellectual engagement, and a shared appreciation for the arts. Franklin’s admiration for Madame Brillon extended to his aspirations for her daughter, whose hand he sought for his grandson, William Temple Franklin.

Edward Bancroft//Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most captivating aspects of the series is the character of the American physician Edward Bancroft. Bancroft, a prominent figure in Franklin’s social and professional circles during his time in France, brought a unique blend of medical expertise and espionage intrigue to Franklin’s life. As a physician, Bancroft made significant contributions to the field of medicine, conducting groundbreaking research and publishing influential works. However, it is his covert activities as a double agent that have been written down in history.

While outwardly supporting the American cause, Bancroft clandestinely provided intelligence to British authorities, betraying the trust of his American counterparts. Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman driven by ideals of liberty, becomes a central figure in the series. In real life, he was inspired by the American cause and crossed the Atlantic to join the Revolutionary War. Lafayette’s military skill and leadership bolstered the Continental Army, which earned him respect from figures like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. His advocacy for American interests in France proved instrumental in securing vital support from the French monarchy.

‘Franklin’ masterfully breathes life into historical figures known from textbooks, infusing them with creativity and vision. Set against a vibrant backdrop of cultural richness in France, the series brings together political luminaries and cultural icons, immersing viewers in a journey through time. Through meticulous attention to detail and imaginative storytelling, ‘Franklin’ transports audiences to the bustling streets of 18th-century Paris, where Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries battle for diplomacy and revolution.

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