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The Broken Chain

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Turner Broadcasting System has created an ambitious slate of programming about Native Americans that includes both nonfiction (a three-part, six-hour documentary called The Native Americans, and fact-based dramas. The first of these was Geronimo, a rather static docudrama. Now, there’s The Broken Chain, a work of historical fiction with emotions fully as engaging as the revisionist lessons it wants to teach. Set in the northeastern part of America in the mid-18th century, Chain stars Eric Schweig (The Last of the Mohicans) as Joseph Brant, a member of the Mohawk tribe who is sent away to be educated by the British. When he returns, he finds his loyalties divided between his Native American roots and the British settlers who financed his schooling.

If this sort of identity crisis sounds tedious, credit director-producer Lamont Johnson (The Kennedys of Massachusetts) and writer Earl Wallace (Witness) with surrounding Brant’s tale with more interesting stuff, like the politics of imperialism. As The Broken Chain tells it, the then-recent invaders, competing British and French forces, were intent upon claiming as much of America for themselves as they could, without regard to the land overseen by Native American inhabitants. Broken Chain explains the Iroquois League, a formal coalition of six tribes, and how its authority was fractured and denied by the foreign invaders. This is the sort of information left out of most pop entertainment about this period of our history, and Broken Chain does a good job of imparting its facts vividly while at the same time avoiding the sort of white-devil demonology that might make it too easy for some viewers to dismiss its arguments.