Stepping into the big shoes of Benjamin Franklin, the Academy Award winner teams up with renowned French actors in a new limited series exploring the Founding Father’s years in France.

Every French schoolkid is familiar with the name Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790). Few figures in the annals of world history shine as brightly and as universally cherished. In 1776, France was the first country to recognize an ambassador from the fledgling nation of the United States of America. That mission fell to Benjamin Franklin, who despite his lack of political experience eagerly took to the French court and culture, making an enormous impact. A fitting role therefore for multi-award winning Hollywood royalty Michael Douglas who stars in the new series “Franklin” as the title hero. The series currently streams on Apple TV+ through May 17, with a new episode out every Friday.

Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff’s book, “A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America,”Franklin” explores the thrilling story of the greatest gamble of Benjamin Franklin’s career. In December 1776, Franklin is world famous for his electrical experiments, but his passion and power are put to the test when — as the fate of American independence hangs in the balance — he embarks on a secret mission to France.

At age 70, without any diplomatic training, Franklin convinced an absolute monarchy to underwrite America’s experiment in democracy. By virtue of his fame, charisma and ingenuity, Franklin outmaneuvered British spies, French informers and hostile colleagues to engineer the Franco-American alliance of 1778 and the peace treaty with England in 1783.

The eight-year French mission stands as Franklin’s most vital service to his country, without which America could not have won the Revolution. Diplomats and historians still regard it as the greatest single tour of duty by an ambassador in our nation’s history.


Photo © Apple TV

Directed by Emmy-winner Tim Van Patten (“The Sopranos”), the drama also features an international cast including French top notch actors Noah Jupe, Thibault de Montalembert, Daniel Mays, Ludivine Sagnier, Eddie Marsan, Assaad Bouab, Jeanne Balibar, and Theodore Pellerin.

One of Nice’s own, Marc Francesco Duret – well known through international series like Outlander and Borgia – was also tapped for the series, playing Jacques Brillon. While his part is not key to the story, it emphasizes the role Parisian society played in shaping Franklin’s views of French culture. Tax clerk Jacques Brillon de Jouy and his wife, composer and musician Madame Brillon (played by Ludivine Sagnier), lived in Paris during Benjamin Franklin’s tenure as the American ambassador in the late 1700s. They grew close to Franklin, hosting him in their salons which were renowned for their intellectual discourse and music. Brillon maintained correspondence with Franklin even after the ambassador’s departure from France.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons; Public domain

Apart from a biopic, writer and executive producer Kirk Ellis also sees the series in the light of an intergenerational conflict between both the Old World and the New, represented by Benjamin Franklin and his oldest grandson, Temple (played by Noah Jupe), the illegitimate son of his own illegitimate son William. This approach gave the creative team “a chance to explore, through Temple’s eyes, what a young man’s journey through the French court might be,” says Ellis. Serving as Franklin’s private secretary in France, his grandfather was trying to groom Temple as a statesman but the young man was more inclined to pursue activities that were not to the elder’s liking. According to director Tim Van Patten, “Temple was also coming of age, and a boy is a boy, and he fell in love with [French] culture. He got with his rakish friends, and he just chose that path.”

Throughout the series, Douglas and his fellow English-speaking actors alternate between English and French. For some, the experience of acting in a foreign language posed a significant challenge. While Douglas does speaks French in real life, Noah Jupe confesses to his lack of prior study in the language before landing the role of Temple Franklin in the series. “Filming in French is a whole new experience. The cadence feels distinctly different. It’s akin to singing, much more expressive. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to act in French.”

Michael Douglas and Marc Francesco Duret

Photo courtesy: Marc Francesco Duret

As an international actor myself who plays in French, English, and Italian, I was more than happy to offer my English speaking cast members some linguistic guidance when desired,” Marc Francesco Duret tells us. “We worked well as a team. But I’d also wish to acknowledge that each of us, no matter how seasoned in our craft, could in return benefit tremendously from Michael Douglas’ incredible talent and experience which he shared more than generously.”

Why A World Premiere at CanneSeries?

Despite his immense career on the big screen, Michael Douglas set out as a TV actor, and now he has returned to his first love. Streaming TV’s new, creative ways of storytelling appeal to him. That is why he proudly led the Franklin cast at the closing ceremony of the annual CanneSeries, just days ahead of the series’ global streaming premiere on 12 April 2024. Fun fact: this was Douglas’ first ever period piece.

Franklin cast copyright CanneSeries

Courtesy and © CanneSeries

The movie legend insisted that France was the natural choice for the show’s global premiere. “This is where our project is based. The story is about Benjamin Franklin coming to France to save America,” he said. “We spent 165 shooting days in Paris and around France in 2022, and not only is it based on Franklin coming here in 1776/7, but everything was filmed in France, and the least we can do to come back here to premiere it.”

America has a lot to be grateful for to France, according to Douglas, and not just the Statue of Liberty in New York City, famously gifted by the French. “I don’t think people know how much of a role France played in saving our country,” he said.

In a recent interview with Walter Isaacson on PBS’ Amanpour & Company, 79 year old Michael Douglas reflects on Franklin’s extraordinary contributions and also shares his views of today’s state of democracy:

The Historic Benjamin Franklin’s Years in France

Franklin’s time in France coincided with the American Revolutionary War. Renowned for his intellect, wit, and diplomatic finesse, his presence is etched in the collective memory as a chapter of extraordinary significance. As an emissary of the burgeoning United States, Franklin’s journey to France was not merely diplomatic; it was a cultural odyssey that left an indelible mark on both nations.

Arrival in the City of Light:
In December 1776, amidst the backdrop of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, then a seasoned statesman and polymath, arrived in Paris. Welcomed with intrigue and reverence, Franklin quickly became a fixture of Parisian society. His iconic fur cap and spectacles became synonymous with the image of the enlightened American abroad.


Photo © Apple TV


Photo © Apple TV

Diplomatic Dance:
Franklin’s mission in France was two-fold: to secure vital support for the American cause and to cultivate amicable relations with the French monarchy. Armed with his charismatic charm and sharp intellect, Franklin endeared himself to French intellectuals, politicians, and aristocrats alike. His famed wit and aphorisms endeared him to the French court, where he captivated luminaries such as King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

The Philosopher Diplomat:
Beyond the corridors of power, Franklin’s influence permeated the salons and coffeehouses of Paris. Embraced by the French Enlightenment thinkers, Franklin engaged in spirited debates on liberty, democracy, and the nature of governance. His presence invigorated the intellectual landscape of Paris, sparking a transatlantic exchange of ideas that would shape the course of history.

A Beacon of Alliance:
Franklin’s diplomatic efforts bore fruit with the signing of the Treaty of Alliance in 1778, cementing France’s support for the American cause. The alliance proved pivotal in turning the tide of the war in favour of the fledgling United States, marking a triumph of diplomacy and perseverance.

Treaty of Alliance (1778) Signatures

Treaty of Alliance (1778) Signatures – via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain

Legacy and Influence:
Benjamin Franklin’s time in France was not merely a diplomatic mission; it was a cultural exchange that forged lasting bonds between two nations. His legacy endures in the hearts of both Americans and the French, symbolizing the enduring spirit of friendship and collaboration. His sojourn in France stands as a testament to the power of diplomacy, intellect, and mutual respect. His time in the City of Light illuminated the path towards liberty and fraternity, leaving an indelible mark on the world stage for generations to come.

Diplomacy should not be conducted as a siege, it should be a seduction.”
— Benjamin Franklin, as quoted by biographer Stacy Schiff

“Franklin” is currently streaming on Apple TV+ through May 17, 2024.

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All images, unless otherwise credited, courtesy and © Apple

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