Video Resources on the Pilgrims
With our nation sheltering at home, people have had a lot of time to watch videos. I would like to call attention to two video presentations that I have found helpful in learning about the Pilgrims. One is a documentary and the other is a docudrama that portrays the Pilgrims’ voyage across the Atlantic and first days in America.
The documentary comes from PBS and was part of their “American Experience” series. The Pilgrims was written and directed by Ric Burns (the brother of Ken Burns) and came out in 2015. The program focuses on William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony. Actor Roger Rees portrays Bradford as an elderly man as he is writing his memoir Of Plymouth Plantation. I found Rees’s dramatic reading of memorable passages from Of Plymouth Plantation to be a particularly powerful part of the film. The first half of the film gives the background of the Pilgrims, explaining their religious convictions and their reasons for transplanting their congregation first to Holland and then to America. Bradford’s biography is given in this part. The second half deals with the hardships they faced after their arrival, and their complicated relationships with the Native American people. Various historians assess the actions and impact of the Pilgrims. Some are sympathetic, others less so. The anger felt by contemporary Native American people toward them is expressed. The film was produced in cooperation with the Plimoth Plantation living history museum. Scenes of the colony were filmed there, with re-enactors from the museum portraying the Pilgrims.
The docudrama I would recommend is Saints and Strangers. It was released in 2016 and was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel. The title refers to the mixed character of the Plymouth Colony. One aspect of this colony that many people are not aware of is that only about half of the colonists (the “saints”) were members of the Separatist congregation. The remainder (the “strangers”) were sent by the financial backers of the Pilgrims and did not necessarily share their beliefs. One recurring theme in the film is the tension between these two groups.
The producers of this film set out to make the most historically accurate portrayal of the Pilgrims that has ever been done. The series faithfully follows the narrative of the early days of Plymouth found in the contemporary accounts we have from Edward Winslow and William Bradford. Everything seen in this series comes from either Winslow’s Good Newes from New England, Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation or Mourt’s Relation (believed to be the work of Bradford and Winslow). One unique feature of this production that contributes a sense of authenticity is that the Native American characters do not speak English. Instead they speak Abenaki, a Native American language related to what the Indians of the area spoke, with the interpretation given in subtitles. Not everything in this series is inspiring to watch. Besides the Pilgrim’s faith and heroic struggle for survival we see the brutal hardships they endured, tensions within the colony, conflict with some of their Indian neighbors, and scenes of shocking violence. We see the Pilgrims as they really were, sincere and devoted people of faith struggling to survive in extreme conditions, sometimes revealing their human fallibility and sinfulness