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The Jefferson Presidency Movies & TV

Thomas Jefferson: A Film by Ken Burns (1996)

This is typical Ken Burns—striking images, excerpts form Jefferson's writings, and a soundtrack heavy on the fiddles. He interviews a solid lineup of Jefferson scholars and touches on the complexity of Jefferson as a person and an intellectual. But this is a lot to cover in a three-hour film, and consequently the film does not reach the depth of some of Burns's more extensive projects.

Jefferson in Paris (1995)

This is a bad movie, with Nick Nolte ridiculously miscast as Jefferson. But as a period piece, it may be of some interest. The costumes are richly detailed, and the intellectual excitement within the Paris salons is nicely portrayed.

American Experience: The Duel

This episode of the highly acclaimed PBS series explores the backgrounds of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and the evolution of their political antagonism from their days as New York lawyers to the deadly end of their dispute at Weehawken in 1804. A useful companion site for the film is available online.

Founding Fathers (2000)

It may be impossible to comprehend the significance of the election of 1800 without understanding the role that Thomas Jefferson played in the founding of the United States. This four-part television documentary explores the early stages of nation building before, during, and after the American Revolution. Part three, “You Say You Want a Revolution.” illustrates the complexities of Jefferson’s wartime leadership.

John Adams (2008)

Check out this recent Emmy-nominated miniseries about the life of John Adams during the Revolutionary period and the early years of the republic. Actor Stephen Dillane plays Thomas Jefferson, a prominent character in the series as Adams’s most formidable political nemesis.

Actor Sam Neill (from the television series “The Tudors”) is Thomas Jefferson, and Carmen Ejogo (“Law & Order”) plays Sally Hemings in this fictional tale based on historical events surrounding the controversial relationship between Jefferson and his slave mistress.

Slavery and the Making of America (2005)

Presented by PBS, this four-part television series uses archival sources to trace the long and complex history of American slavery, from its beginnings in the colonies to its solidification with the signing of the U.S. Constitution to the post-Civil War years. Learn more about the key role Thomas Jefferson played in developing and perpetuating this most heinous of American institutions.

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