Jefferson in Paris (1995) short review


Another mixed bag — it’s a Merchant/Ivory production, which in itself should be enough recommendation.  The plot centers on Thomas Jefferson’s (Nick Nolte) time in Paris, where he becomes entangled with a married woman (Greta Scacchi as Maria Cosway) and then one of his slaves (Thandie Newton as Sally Hemmings, who Jefferson would go on to have many children with), while juggling his relationship with his daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow).  I rather enjoy the first half, which focuses on the Jefferson/Cosway/Patsy Jefferson triangle, but when the film tries to address the Jefferson/Hemmings relationship and the complicated issues surrounding slavery, it just doesn’t do it justice — this relationship probably needs to be the focus of its own film (or many films!) to really fully explore it.  Nonetheless, Nolte is not as painful as you’d think as Jefferson, Scaachi and Newton are (as always) mesmerizing, and Gwyneth Paltrow gives one of my favorite of her performances.  AND THE COSTUMES ARE FABULOUS, FABULOUS, FABULOUS.


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

6 Responses

  1. Erica

    ‘this relationship probably needs to be the focus of its own film (or many films!) to really fully explore it.’

    Have you watched Sally Hemings: An American Scandal (2000)? It focuses primarily on Sally she relationship with Jefferson.

  2. Stacie Herndon

    I watched this again last night, and I think this short review is spot on! The one thing I couldn’t get over in the film (which I didn’t notice as much in 1995), was the actor portraying Louis XVI — he looked about 60, and Louis would have been 35 at the beginning of the Revolution. I know the aging process was different in the 18th century, but this just seemed to be a raging inaccuracy. It annoyed me more than it should have probably, but STILL!

  3. bklynwebgrrl

    I saw this in the theater for a press release and it was quite lovely. Not my favorite Jefferson but the soundtrack was fantastic.