Title: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot
Release Date: March 30, 1957
Director: George Seaton
Production Company: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation | Paramount Pictures
For 63 years, visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have been introduced to the Historic Area with this docudrama account of the years leading up to the Revolutionary War in Virginia. I first saw in 1985 at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center and later on hotel tv loops, and now I got to revisit it on a Zoom presentation from the Williamsburg Regional Library (which included a slide presentation on the making of the film and its restoration). This movie is short, and a bit corny, but I maintain a stupid love for it that I cannot explain.
A young Jack Lord stars as John Fry, a wealthy plantation owner who serves in the Virginia legislature in the 1760s and 1770s. He interacts with famous historical figures like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington as well as less famous historical figures like William Byrd III, John Randolph, and George Wythe. The movie expertly depicts the series of incidents that precipitated the Revolution and the vote for Independence, and through Fry we see the gradual transition of someone from being a loyal British subject to supporting independence. The movie also offers an introduction to the many sites in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, especially when Fry gives a tour of the city to his family.
The movie does fail from a social history perspective, as views of historical events outside of Fry’s patriarchal, slave-owning planter class are kept to the margins. Nevertheless, the movie packs in a lot of historical detail in 37 minutes. And it does it with a score by Bernard Herrmann (of Vertigo, Psycho, and Taxi Driver fame) and in beautiful technicolor. When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1990s, I frequently had people ask if I starred in this movie which demonstrates that the movie doesn’t look like it was made 16 years before I was born and that these people did not watch Hawaii 5-0.
Can You Spot the Difference?
All these years later, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot remains “ever the best!”