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DVD Review: The Kent Chronicles

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Based on author John Jakes’s (North & South) best-selling series of novels which were written to celebrate America’s bicentennial, Acorn Media has recently released The Kent Chronicles, three television miniseries dramatizing the first three books in the series: The Bastard, The Rebels, and The Seekers. Miniseries were a big thing in 1970s television, with dramatizations like Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, and Holocaust proving immensely popular.

The Bastard, the first movie in this series, was also well-received, and is the most entertaining of the trio. The story begins with a young Frenchman Phillipe Charboneau (Andrew Stevens) who discovers that he is the bastard son of an English nobleman. Urged on by his ambitious mother (Patricia Neal), he travels to England to claim his birthright. His efforts are not met with success and he decides to leave England for America, where he takes the name Philip Kent and finds himself siding with the many Colonials who are being oppressed by the British. Familiar television personalities appear in the large cast: Kim Cattrall, Buddy Ebsen, Harry Morgan — viewers will especially enjoy spotting those playing well-known historical personages — Tom Bosley as Benjamin Franklin and William Shatner as Paul Revere.

The Bastard is part historical novel and part bodice-ripper, as Phillipe/Philip charms ladies on both continents. In the second film, The Rebels, Don Johnson takes over the bulk of romancing the ladies as brash Virginian Judson Fletcher, who joins northerner Philip Kent in the fight for independence. The pair find themselves in the harsh winter conditions at Fort Ticonderoga and Valley Forge, as well as Philadelphia and Cambridge. More television favorites play familiar names from high-school text books: William Daniels as John Adams (he plays Samuel Adams in The Bastard!), Jim Backus as John Hancock, and Peter Graves of Mission Impossible fame as George Washington. The third film, The Seekers, follows the Kents in the American West and during the War of 1812. Randolph Mantooth plays Philip’s grown son Abraham. 

Each miniseries runs approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes, on three discs. The aspect ratio is 4:3, full screen, with scene selection and SDH subtitles available. Extras include the original, two-minute trailer and a biography of author John Jakes.

The movies are dated, even hokey at times, but are still quite entertaining. Exterior scenes, such as those depicting Revolutionary War winter conditions in The Rebels, are especially successful. Viewers will enjoy The Kent Chronicles as both a 1970s television time capsule and a historical soap opera.

[Images from top: Andrew Stevens travels to America in The Bastard, Don Johnson fights a duel in The Rebels, and Randolph Mantooth in The Seekers, all with wonderfully feathered ’70s hair.]

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