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Lafayette: The Lost Hero

Lafayette: The Lost Hero is an historical detective story. Who was the Marquis de Lafayette? How and why did he come to America? This film tells the story of the life and legend of an intriguing, neglected and controversial figure, who left France at the age of 19 and fought courageously for the independence of the United States.


Along the way, we discover the story of Lafayette’s fascinating wife, Adrienne De Noailles, and the arranged marriage that became a great romance and a profound partnership in revolution. Lafayette also explores the ideals of the Enlightenment that Lafayette stood for – ideals that played out in the compelling narrative of his life and became a foundation for America’s core values of equality and freedom. The film searches for the truth about this elusive personality, and why he matters today.


No one in recorded history has suffered a fate quite like Lafayette. Once, he was the most famous man in the world; today, few people know who he was or what he accomplished. Ever since he died, there has been conflict over the true meaning of his achievements. It is time to re-evaluate his crucial role in the establishment of America’s democracy.

Lafayette: The Lost Hero was first broadcast in October 2010 on PBS.

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'His was not the influence of genius, nor even of talents; it was the influence of a heroic character… of one who, in every situation, throughout a long life, had done and suffered everything for the right… It will be long ere there shall arise such a union of character and circumstances as shall enable another human being to live such a life.’ – John Stuart Mill


In his day Lafayette was hailed as the “Hero of Two Worlds,” and for more than a century, widely admired in the U.S. In fact, he became a household name. He was the subject of worshipful biographies and the only foreigner ever to have more than 30 American towns – not to mention streets, squares and parks in almost every city in the US – named in his honor. This naming fad continued for more than a hundred years after his fight for the American cause. Why was Lafayette so beloved in his “adopted” country? Alone among the Founding Fathers, he was able to win “the unanimous acclaim and veneration of all Americans.” The Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, was not a hero in the North any more than Bostonian, John Adams, could be one in the south. The only man loved and venerated by everyone was the one they called “Our Marquis.”


The record strongly indicates that he won his reputation by merit, proving himself courageous in battle and resourceful behind the scenes, advancing the cause of America and forging its crucial alliance with France. And he did it all between the ages of 19 and 21. Perhaps his most enduring quality was his steadfast support through a long, eventful life, of the principles of democracy and freedom for all: man or woman; Catholic, Protestant or Jew; white, black, or Indian. In his time, Lafayette tackled the thorniest problems that came with the American experiment: racism, slavery, class differences, rights for women, and religious intolerance.


In his own country, Lafayette has a complicated legacy. He was an extremely popular figure in France, but the violent turning point of the French Revolution left him forever a compromised and controversial figure to his own people. Today he is reviled by certain extremes in French society. Many on the left or the working class regard him as a self-serving aristocrat, a monarchist who was never fully committed to the people. To others on the right, he will forever be a subversive traitor to his king and class.


But for the most part, in France and America today, he is simply a forgotten man, one whose extraordinary accomplishments have now faded from memory.


Lafayette: The Lost Hero was filmed using an innovative mix of documentary techniques, structured around the quest of Lafayette’s descendant, Sabine Renault Sabloniere, to discover the true story of her ancestor.

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