Laura Fisher: A Spotlight on the Battles That Set the Stage for Revolution





What was George Washington's accent like? "The War That Made America," a four-part edutainment series that begins tonight on PBS, makes some guesses about that and hundreds of other lost historical details, as it chronicles the French and Indian War in high-gloss and ultimately successful re-creations. Possibly Washington sounded very American, with hard R's; possibly he sounded Irish-like; maybe he sounded British or southern or vaguely mid-Atlantic. The actor can't seem to decide. And the dramaturge here - this is television, so let's say that's Laura Fisher, a historian and one of the show's executive producers - has set herself bigger tasks.

She has set out to render in lavish particulars the story of the strange war between the French and British empires for control of the Ohio River Valley in the 1750's and 60's. The war was triangulated: American Indians, for whom the valley was a homeland, played the empires against each other, eventually tipping the balance of power in favor of the British. The Indians' strategy, diplomacy and unorthodox military tactics are the chief focus of this program, which attends closely to their considerable role in the war. (Graham Greene, the actor and Oneida Indian whose ancestors fought in the war, serves as narrator.)

With Deborah Acklin, the film's other executive producer, Ms. Fisher has elected to use voice-over and re-enactments almost exclusively; no eminent talking heads appear to interrupt the war's suspense with interpretation and exposition. In preserving the pace of this bloody, pulse-racing narrative, this choice makes sense. But it also lays the documentary open to the charges that dog every historical re-creation: it's specious, and it looks like a school play.



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