Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Larrie D. Ferreiro's "Brothers at Arms"

Larrie D. Ferreiro received his PhD in the History of Science and Technology from Imperial College London. He teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over thirty-five years in the US Navy, US Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and was an exchange engineer in the French Navy. He is the author of Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World and Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800.

Here Ferreiro dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It:
Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It tells the stories of the French and Spanish merchants, ministers, soldiers and sailors who all came to the assistance of the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War, even before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, and were crucial to carrying the American Cause through to victory.

So vast a canvas is hard to portray on screen and still keep the audience riveted, so it needs a central character whose story arc allows the audience to follow the events, while still retaining a singular focus. This character should be based on a real-life model, just as in The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin was based on the real-life “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.

Fortunately, such a character appears throughout Brothers at Arms and should be the inspiration for the movie’s main character, a person who saw many different battles throughout the war. Antoine Félix Wuibert was among the very first French volunteers to the American cause when he came to Philadelphia in 1776, and was commissioned by John Hancock as an American officer even before the Declaration of Independence was signed. He fought under George Washington when the British overran New York City, where he was captured and imprisoned back in England.

After Wuibert was paroled, he signed on to serve with John Paul Jones aboard the frigate Bonhomme Richard, and during the famous battle with Serapis he led the marines who ultimately defeated and captured the much larger British ship. Even though he was seriously wounded in the battle, he begged to return to America to rejoin the fight. On his way back he was again captured, imprisoned and released before returning to the serve again as an officer under George Washington. After the war he became an American citizen and a staunch abolitionist.

So if Wuibert was the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution, who should play him? Of course, Tom Hanks! He would play the older version of Wuibert, in his later life as an abolitionist – looking back over his exploits in the Revolutionary War, and narrating some of the events. His son Colin Hanks would be the younger Wuibert, his story somewhat embellished by having him present at the creation when the Declaration of Independence was signed, fighting in the crucial battles of Long Island and New York before being captured, serving as a marine under John Paul Jones, and finishing the war at the Battle of Yorktown, in which the French provided the navy, most of the firepower and most of the troops who led the siege. Throughout the movie, we would see Wuibert’s French countrymen – and a few Spanish ones as well, which is also based on actual events – fight for the American cause that they made their own.

Another real-life foreign volunteer, Thaddeus Kosciusko, had a free African-American orderly named Agrippa Hull, and after the war, Kosciusko tried to get Thomas Jefferson to free the slaves. This could serve as another inspiration for the character and the plot, having our younger (Colin Hanks) Wuibert being accompanied through the war by his African orderly (Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton). Towards the end of the movie, our older (Tom Hanks*) Wuibert is a leader in the fight, trying to extend liberty to the enslaved Africans who had fought side-by-side with him in the war, the very same liberties as the Americans had gained due to the help we received from France and Spain.
(*Note: Tom Hanks played a French filmmaker, and spoke French, in the TV miniseries From Earth to Moon.)
Learn more about Brothers at Arms at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue