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For many of its historical details, I found this James Ivory-Ruth Prawer Jhabvala account of Thomas Jefferson's five-year stint as ambassador to France (1784-'89) a lot more absorbing and interesting than their usual brand of Classics Illustrated—even if the Gourmet-style consumerist spreads remain pretty much the same. But by the time they get around to articulating a story, the inhibitions imposed by their “good taste” begin to seem more like gutlessness, and what initially promises to be an exposure of American liberal doublethink about slavery winds up as a querulous wimp out on a subject that the underrated Mandingo is better equipped to deal with. I don't feel qualified to comment on the accuracy of this portrait of Jefferson, but Nick Nolte does what he can to suggest unplumbed depths, and the other actors—including Greta Scacchi, Gwyneth Paltrow, Thandie Newton, Seth Gilliam, Simon Callow, Nancy Marchand, Charlotte de Turckheim, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Michael Lonsdale, and James Earl Jones—vie with the varied decor in holding one's respectful attention (1995).

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