This film is about the years, 1784-1789, that Thomas Jefferson spent as the American ambassador to France. These were significant years for him in his public and personal life, and fateful ones for France, where the Revolution was about to break out. Jefferson was 41 years old when he arrived from Virginia, accompanied by his elder daughter, Patsy, and one of his slaves, James Hemings. His wife had died two years before; and eight years before that, he had drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence.
French liberals and intellectuals turned eagerly to Jefferson to guide them toward a democratic form of government. As an ambassador at Versailles, he had a privileged view of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the corruption of their court. This led him to give his full support to the movements for reform although he was as oblivious as any French aristocrat of the horrors that the Revolution was about to let loose. Jefferson was still in Paris when the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, and the film resounds throughout with revolutionary rumblings and upheavals.
While deploring the poverty of the people, Jefferson appreciated all the riches of French culture and civilization. It was his first time abroad, and in a way, he was the prototype of the American in Paris, extending his knowledge of the liberal arts and the new sciences, and savoring the refinements of the mind and of the senses that France had to offer. And what he acquired he brought back to America: it was in France that he seriously pursued the study of architecture and began to plan the great buildings that he later designed for his own state of Virginia. He also brought back to Monticello, his plantation home, other French acquisitions literally, for he departed from France with 86 packing cases containing books, furniture, paintings, statuary, scientific and musical instruments, wine, cheeses, clocks, and even fruit trees to plant on his hilltop, his "little mountain."
Cast: Nick Nolte (Thomas Jefferson), Greta Scacchi (Maria Cosway), Jean-Pierre Aumont (D'Hancarville), Simon Callow (Richard Cosway), Seth Gilliam (James Hemings), James Earl Jones (Madison Hemings), Michael Lonsdale (LouisXVI), Nancy Marchand (The Abbess), Daniel Mesguich (Mesmer), Thandie Newton (Sally Hemings), Gwyneth Paltrow (Patsy Jefferson), Charlotte de Turckheim (Marie Antoinette), Lambert Wilson (Marquis De Lafayette), Elsa Zylberstein (Adrienne De Lafayette), Sylvia Berge (Head and Heart game player), Todd Boyce (William Short), Vincent Cassel (Camille Desmoulins), Tim Choate (Reporter), Vernon Dobtchev (King's translator), Estelle Eonnet (Polly Jefferson), Eric Genovese (Liberal aristocrat), Philippine Leroy--Beaulieu (Head and Heart game player), Jessica Lloyd (Julia), Bruno Putzulu (Liberal aristocrat), Jean--Francois Perrier (Liberal aristocrat), Catherine Samie (Cook), Celine Samie (Head and Heart game player), Christopher Thompson (Head and Heart interpreter), Nigel Whitmey (John Trumbull), Beatrice Winde (Mary Hemings), Nicolas Silberg (Monsieur Petit), Lionel Robert (Cook's helper), Stanislas Carre De Malberg (Surgeon), Jean Rupert (Surgeon), Yvette Petit (Dressmaker), Paolo Mantini (Hairdresser), F. Van Den Driessche (Mutilated officer), Humbert Balsan (Mutilated officer), Bob Sessions (James Byrd), Jeffrey Justin Ribier (Horatius Byrd), Philippe Mareuil (Liberal aristocrat),Philippe Bouclet (Liberal aristocrat), Olivier Galfione (Chevalier De Saint-Colombe), Anthony Valentine (British ambassador), Steve Kalfa (Dr. Guillotin), Andre Julien and Jacques Herlin (Savants), Elizabeth Kaza, Marie Laurence, and Agathe De La Boulaye (Card players), Abdel Bouthegmes (Lafayette's Indian), Damien Groelle (The Dauphin), Louise Balsan (Madame Royale), Valerie Toledano (Madame Elizabeth), Mathilde Vitry, Catherine Chevalier, and Laurie Killing (Ladies of the court), Feliz Malinbaum (Captain of the guard), Herve Hiolle (King's messenger), Christian Vurpillot (Archbishop), Philippe Girard and Eric Berg (Post office spies), Olivia Bonamy, Sarah Mesguich, and Virginie Desarnault (Schoolgirls), Sophie Danemen and Sandrine Piau (Singers), Martine Sarcey (Head and Heart game player), Magali Leiris and Valentine Varella (Patients), Gabrielle Islwyn (Singer with megaphone), Marc Tissot (Construction foreman), William Christie (Conductor), Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (Dardanus), Ismail Merchant (Davich Khan, Tipoo Sultan's ambassador), Martine Chevalier (Mademoiselle Contat), Valerie Lang (Demented woman), Jean Dautremay (Shopkeeper).