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Kent Chronicles, The

Release Year:         Late 1970s
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; NTSC; Boxed Set; Miniseries
Rated:         Not Rated; Contains violence and sexual situations
# of Discs:         3
Running Time:         568 minutes
DVD Release Date:         July 31, 2012
Creators:         Based on John Jakes novels
Actors:         Andrew Stevens, William Shatner, Tom Bosley, Peter Graves, Kim Cattrall, Patricia Neal, George Hamilton, Don Johnson, Delta Burke, Olivia Hussey, William Daniels, Randolph Mantooth
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles; Original trailer; Biography of John Jakes
E:Top Picks Rating:         7/10

Acorn Media Write-up:  
Three historical miniseries based on John Jakes’ bestselling novels; Featuring William Shatner, Kim Cattrall, Don Johnson, Patricia Neal, George Hamilton, Delta Burke, and Tom Bosley.

Chronicling the saga of the Kent family in early America, the star-studded Revolution-era romp, THE KENT CHRONICLES, makes its North American DVD debut from Acorn Media. Based on the bestselling novels by John Jakes (“North and South”), the “godfather of the historical novel”, these three miniseries follow the fortunes of a young Frenchman (Andrew Stevens, “Dallas”) as he immigrates to America during the Revolutionary War and crosses paths with historical heavyweights including Paul Revere (William Shatner, “Star Trek”), Benjamin Franklin (Tom Bosley, “Happy Days”), Samuel Adams (William Daniels, “St. Elsewhere”), and George Washington (Peter Graves, “Mission: Impossible”). Nominated for two Emmys and a Golden Globe and broadcast in the late 1970s, the DVD 3-disc set includes three miniseries based on the popular Kent family novels: “The Bastard”, “The Rebels”, and “The Seekers”, plus the original 2-min trailer.

Filled with adventure and romance, these three miniseries chronicle the saga of the Kent family in early America. In THE BASTARD, Frenchman Phillipe Charboneau adopts a new identity as Philip Kent in the colonies. In THE REBELS, Kent fights in the War of Independence and strikes up a friendship with a dashing and reckless Virginian (Don Johnson, “Miami Vice”). THE SEEKERS completes the story as Philip’s sons and grandson forge a life on the western frontier and fight in the War of 1812. The set also stars Patricia Neal (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s), George Hamilton (“Where the Boys Are”), Olivia Hussey (“Romeo & Juliet”), Delta Burke (“Designing Women”), and Kim Cattrall (“Sex and the City”).

Jon Ted Wynne Review:  
American author John Jakes is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of the historical novel.” During his prolific career he took time away from historical subjects to write a series of novellas for “The Man From UNCLE” magazine, which provided his first tenuous link to television. However, it is for period novels and the subsequent small screen adaptations of his work — namely the “North & South” series as well as the series under review — that he is best known.

Around 1976, during the American bicentennial, Jakes wrote a series of eight novels collectively entitled “The Kent Family Chronicles”. The first three novels in this series, “The Bastard”, “The Rebels”, and “The Seekers” were adapted for television at the height of the mini-series craze in the 1970s and ’80s. These adaptations are a curious addition to the Acorn Media library.

The typical American mini-series produced at this time tended towards panoramic, epic, multi-generational stories that afforded opportunities for casting multiple stars for maximum viewer satisfaction. At best, in a series like “Centennial” (another frontier saga made around the same time and based on the James Michener blockbuster), or either of the Herman Wouk-penned WWII-era volumes “The Winds of War” and “War & Remembrance”, the mini-series reached the heights of artistic achievement within this popular limited format. Attracting such luminaries as Robert Mitchum (in the two Wouk works), the television mini-series is generally fun to watch just to see how many stars have been assembled under one roof.

This is both a blessing and a curse, as popularity with viewers doesn’t always translate into a believable performance, particularly in a period piece. This “stunt casting” (or is that mis-casting) works against the overall effectiveness of THE KENT CHRONICLES. While this point might be belaboured, one has only to cite the example of Tom Bosley as Benjamin Franklin and the point is easily made. Bosley was a good actor with numerous stage credits in a variety of roles, but he will always be remembered as Mr. C on “Happy Days”, thus rendering his believability in a period piece, let alone as one of history’s most recognizable figures, ludicrous. And then there’s Don Johnson… but I’ve already said ludicrous, so enough about the casting.

A good mini-series stands or falls on the strength of its story and Jakes truly knows how to tell a tale. “The Bastard”, the first three hours of this nine hour trilogy, sets things up with the very clever metaphor of the main character’s dilemma (he is a bastard, meaning an illegitimate son) and the idea that America at the time of its quest for independence was a sort of bastard child of Great Britain. As Philippe Charbonneau (Andrew Stevens) — later known as Philip Kent — seeks to understand his circumstances and purpose in life, so the burgeoning country that became the United States of America experiences its own birth pangs and subsequent self-identification.

Peppered with performances from a high-profile cast that range from brilliant to atrocious, the viewer has fun “spotting the star” while watching each chapter of the story unfold. It just takes a little extra effort to not lose sight of the reason the big-name actor is supposed to be there – to further the plot.

The real surprise here is that while there is considerable merit on display — it is a very entertaining story after all — it suffers by comparison to almost anything else in the mini-series market that Acorn Media has distributed. After all, Acorn specializes in British programming, and while the production standards in British programs may suffer by comparison due to budget limitations, in almost every case the standard of acting is so far superior to US-produced fare as to be pointless to even compare the two. Taken for what it is though, an epic story of America’s becoming a nation, THE KENT CHRONICLES is entertaining — albeit light — television mini-series fare.

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