'Founders' grips; 'Sophia' preaches love

Both 'Founding Fathers' and 'Sophia Myles' focus on setting examples for others

How would the founding fathers of the United States have reacted to the 2000 election?

"I think they would have been thrilled," says historian Carol Berkin at the City University of New York (CUNY).

As one of the featured historians in the well-researched and gripping four-part Founding Fathers (History Channel, Nov. 27-30, 9-10 p.m.), Dr. Berkin lends a communicable warmth and enthusiasm to the film.

"Two hundred and something years later we have a crisis ... in the transference of power," Berkin says. "Are there people mounting armies in the streets? No. Has Gore seized the White House with the chiefs of staff? No.... Rule of law prevails....

"If these men who believed that the rule of law was the highest measure of civilization [could see this election], they would take enormous pride in that we are a culture of law."

Hosted by Roger Mudd and narrated by actor Edward Herrmann, "Founding Fathers" features the voices of Beau Bridges, Peter Coyote, Hal Holbrook, James Woods, and Michael York, among others.

And while these terrific actors enliven the words of Washington, Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Hamilton, and more, several dynamic historians tell the stories of the Founding Fathers, their motivations, personalities, and ideals.

What's remarkable is how seamless the documentary is. The film uncovers details of these heroes' lives that will gratify and surprise most viewers.

Moving with dramatic flair from the writings of these great men to the facts about their personal lives and the occasion to which they rose with such commitment, the film ignites new interest in our old history and leaves one appreciating their accomplishments and sacrifices even more.

The messages of this film are how extraordinary the times were; what a great experiment the new republic was; and how these all-too-human beings - with all their tempers, sins, and ambitions - exceeded themselves for the good of the nation.

"These are people who were great students of history," host Berkin says. "They had studied all the ancient republics, and all of those came to bad ends. The Greek city states, the Roman Republic, Florence, and other models for societies that did not have a king taught them that [republics] were very fragile.

"They were in constant danger of a despot arising from the top or anarchy arising from the people. When [the Founding Fathers] put the Constitution together, I think they thought they would be lucky if it lasted two or three generations."

The Founding Fathers knew that the ancient republics had been particularly fragile at times of transition of power, she says.

She jokes that since so many of them were lawyers and loved legal battles, they would have enjoyed the legal arguments this election has produced. But joking aside, the film puts our present political challenges in perspective. It stimulates a genuine, not a sentimental, appreciation for American civilization.

On an entirely different note, Della Reese stars in a poignant story about faith lost and regained in The Moving of Sophia Myles (CBS Sunday Night Movie, Nov. 26, 9-11 p.m.). Don't expect "Touched by an Angel" platitudes, either. Ms. Reese turns in a layered performance that speaks gently to those who have experienced grief.

Reese plays the wife of an Episcopal minister who is suffering from depression when a little boy he has ministered to suddenly dies. Sophia takes over writing his sermons and visiting the ill or troubled for her husband. But her husband's sudden death leaves her frayed and angry.

To make matters worse, her best friend (played by Golden Girls' Rue McClanahan) is instrumental in evicting Sophia from the parsonage and hiring a new pastor. How Sophia finds her way back to her church and her community is the real subject of the story.

Sophia's value to the church and to the community is far greater than she or even her congregation realizes at first. Her lovingkindness that has met the needs of so many, including her husband, can't go unappreciated. As the community awakes to her contributions, Sophia awakes to them, too. There's never too much soulful kindness in the world.

An interesting twist in the story comes late in the film. Sophia's husband had a gift for bringing joy to the small boy, actually turning the child's father toward hope and love.

The elderly preacher converts the atheist dad even though he himself doubts, because the model he supplies is so excellent. This is what Sophia learns about the example love can provide.

There is something helpful about Sophia's journey toward understanding herself and her place in the community - her life has been an example to hearten others.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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