Lafayette: The Lost Hero on WXXI-TV

Lafayette: The Lost Hero on WXXI-TV

Wed, 09/15/2010 - 8:00pm

Pictured: Marquis de Lafayette

Credit: © RÈunion des MusÈes Nationaux / Art Resource

The life and legend of the Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette: The Lost Hero, premiering on Wednesday, September 15 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11), chronicles the life and legend of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette — an intriguing, neglected and controversial figure from both the American and French Revolutions who at one time was the most famous man in the world. The film examines why a wealthy young French aristocrat would leave the comforts of the court to help a fledgling nation on another continent fight for independence, the nature of the daring path he then set upon and how the concept of liberty steered so many choices in his life.

The story of Lafayette’s life and quest to bring democracy to America and France is told, in part, as recorded in the extensive letters and memoirs of Lafayette, his wife Adrienne de Noailles and his close friend George Washington. Lafayette left France at the age of 19 in 1777 and worked courageously for the independence of the United States through both strategic military command and skillful diplomacy. He served in the Continental Army under George Washington, participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Yorkville, where he tactically blocked British troops led by Charles Cornwallis, and convinced the French government to increase their commitment to the American cause. Lafayette became a household name. After peace was won in America, Lafayette returned to France, risking his life to help start the French Revolution and then struggling in vain to bring democracy to his country by peaceful means. The film explores the ideals of the Enlightenment that Lafayette stood for.

The documentary’s narrative is also driven by a present-day search by Lafayette’s descendant, Sabine Renault-Sabloniere, to find out more about her ancestor. Her research uncovers the largely untold story of Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, second daughter of the Duke de Noailles, and the arranged marriage that turned into a great romance and a partnership in revolution. The result is a biographical film that is part adventure, part romance and part historical journey. The film features lush dramatizations and evocative footage and animation that gives cultural background and brings the audience closer to a sense of what might have happened in the past — and insight on its meaning to present-day viewers.

Interviews with the world’s leading authorities on Lafayette add another perspective, presenting first-hand accounts and other research that enables viewers to unlock some of the secrets of Lafayette’s life and understand the renown by which he was known in his day. Interviewees include the following individuals:

  • James R. Gaines: American journalist and author of For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions (W. W. Norton, 2007).
  • Robert R. Crout: Renowned scholar known for extensive research on the Marquis and co-editor of the Lafayette Papers Project at Cornell University, which published the five volume series Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790 (Cornell University Press, 1981).
  • Sabine Renault-Sabloniere: A great great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Lafayette, who is writing a book about Lafayette and his wife and the story of their unlikely partnership in two revolutions.
  • Jacque de Trentinian: Executive vice president of the French Branch of the Sons of the American Revolution.
  • Patrick Villiers: Professeur des Universités at the University of Littoral-Côte d’Opale (Boulogne Calais Dunkerque).
  • Gonzague Saint Bris: Author of Lafayette: Hero of the American Revolution (Pegasus Books, 2010).
  • Sarah Vowell: Author, commentator and regular contributor on public radio’s This American Life.


Few lives have matched Lafayette’s. In his later years, after being imprisoned for bringing freedom movements to Europe, Lafayette returned triumphantly in 1824 to the United States for the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution — this country’s first great patriotic celebration. His return was celebrated in monumental fashion in towns throughout the nation. Lafayette became the only foreigner to have more than 30 American towns named in his honor, not including the numerous streets, squares and parks also named for him in almost every city in the United States. The documentary recalls, too, the great leaders of the day who mourned upon news of Lafayette’s death in Paris in 1834.  And yet his legacy today is so conflicted, due in part to his role in the French Revolution, which contradicted his aristocratic background. This film allows a re-evaluation of Lafayette’s crucial role in the establishment of democracy — both in America and France.