When you heard that Michael Douglas was cast in the role of Benjamin Franklin, be honest. Your first thought was, Whaat? Michael Douglas?? Maybe Paul Giamatti, but Michael Douglas does not look like the guy on the US hundred dollar bill.

Yet, about four minutes into Franklin, AppleTV+’s epic, eight-part historical series about the founding father’s last great efforts in nation-building while in France, you forget all about preconceived notions. Without glueing on prothetics or scrubbing on much makeup, Douglas is, remarkably, Franklin.

Fact is, Douglas has never really done a period piece before, unless you count HBO’s 2013 movie, “Behind the Candelabra.” There Douglas played Liberace, and while that also seems like a stretch, he won an Emmy for it.

Here he is playing Franklin in his seventies, which is age appropriate. Douglas turns 80 this September. The founding father was in France until he was 78, hammering out an alliance with the French monarchy in America’s war of independence against the British.

He’s no dottering old coot, either. There are scenes where Franklin is throwing himself into his work around an 18th century printing press. Douglas’s Franklin is more like an aging rock star, more McCartney or Jagger, hampered somewhat by gout.

It is a fascinating story, one I was first made more aware of from Ken Burns’ excellent 2022 documentary on Franklin. Here was the most famous American alive, known as an inventor, printer and a publisher, suddenly thrust into the role of a diplomat with no prior experience. What was revealed in the doc and now in the miniseries is that Franklin was a seductive little rascal. Does that Douglas casting make a little more sense now?


Much of the series was shot in France, some of it, on Mondays (when it is closed to the public), at the Palace of Versailles. The coaches and costumes and all manner of wigs and makeup are astonishing. Director Tim an Patten, who has handled epic scenes before on Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, directs all eight episodes. There are scenes of grand banquets and pageantry as well as scenes of surrender on the battlefield, and Van Patten manages to marshall it all, in French and in English, with aplomb.

Douglas is just about the only American is this large and talented international cast. Young British actor Noah Jupe, just 17 when Franklin was shot over 160 days in 2022, plays Temple, the iconic American’s grandson and diplomat-in-training. Here it is Jupe who get to do all the leg work, getting involved in nasty, drunken brawls and attempting to have his way with the ladies. Douglas had to have been thinking; that used to be me.

Much of the main players are from France, including actress Ludivine Sagnier who is divine as Anne Louise Brillon du Jouy; Jean Balibar as never shy Madame Helvetius; and Thibault de Montalembert as Comte de Vergennes, the main official Franklin has to win over at the odd court of King Louis XVI.

Much of the dialogue — a surprising amount — is in French, including occasionally from Douglas and Jupe. Make sure your captioning is bright and legible because there is a lot of reading as well as watching with Franklin.

If you are the ultimate Canadian, fluently bilingual in French and English, then AppleTV+ has gone to extraordinary measures to make a series just for you. For the rest of us, credit Apple for concluding that Americans red plenty of captions through the pandemic when more series were imported. Four years ago, there is no way Franklin gets to be so French. As it stands it is refreshingly authentic.

A couple of British actors also play key roles. Danny Mays is excellent as Franklin’s physician and confidant, Edward Bancroft. Eddie Marsan arrives three episodes in as future American president John Adams, who sees through Franklin’s charm and finds his flirtatiousness with the ladies a tad skeevy.

These are, however, skeevy times in France. In the 18th century, the men’s roon was often a tree or the side of a wall. Franklin had invented a heater and bifocals but still hadn’t perfected the flush toilet.

The series gets all of these details right, and while it struggles with providing a surprising conclusion — spoiler alert: America did, with Frances help, defeat the British and form a nation — it nevertheless packs enough cliffhangers into the mix to keep viewers hooked from episode to episode.

Make no mistake, however: this is Douglas’s series. The Oscar winner (for 1987’s “Wall Street”) has moved on from his more comical look at aging in Netflix’s The Kominsky Method to getting under Franklin’s 70-something skin. The actor and the character are as one in rising to the challenge of portraying power and authority as an elder, no matter what the language barrier. For Franklin it was nation building. For Douglas, it is a career capping part to hang his tri-cornered hat on.

So pay no attention to that portly dude on the Yankee C-note. After watching this series, you will be convinced Benjamin Franklin looks just like Michael Douglas.


  1. You got your Roman numerals wrong. 🙂

    It’s King Louis XVI (king from Kin1774-1792) and not King Louis XIV (king from 1643-1715).

    Best regards

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