2011, TV

Prohibition (2011, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick)

Prohibition is the shortest Burns mini-series yet, and I am tempted to say it is the best, or at least the most consistent of the mini-series he has helmed to date. It also feels the least mythological, which is refreshing coming from Burns, a man who can never avoid mythologizing or re-mythologizing his country’s history.

Though I knew a fair amount about the era, it’s safe to say there is still plenty to learn about it in such an intensive treatment – it is about 6 hours long or thereabouts – and, as always, Burns provides interesting personal stories and interesting insight from people who have thought about this a lot more than you or I.

This era stands as a lesson to pretty much anyone who wants to change behaviour and it feels particularly relevant given the moralizing of a certain portion of Americans, who are always trying to tell other Americans (and the world) how to live. The fact that they constitutionalized this moralizing and it was an abject failure should have convinced people that these kinds of moral crusades don’t work. Alas.

Anyway, it’s well worth you time.


  • Written by Geoffrey C. Ward
  • Directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick
  • Narrated by Peter Coyote
  • Voice Actors:
    • Adam Arkin
    • Philip Bosco
    • Patricia Clarkson (Carrie Nation)
    • Kevin Conway
    • Blythe Danner
    • Paul Giamatti (George Remus)
    • Tom Hanks (Newspaper)
    • Jeremy Irons
    • Samuel L. Jackson
    • John Lithgow (H. L. Mencken)
    • Josh Lucas
    • Amy Madigan
    • Carolyn McCormick
    • Oliver Platt (Al Capone)
    • Campbell Scott (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    • Frances Sternhagen
    • Joanne Tucker
    • Sam Waterston (newspaper)
  • Interviews:
    • Zeke Alpern
    • Jonathan Eig
    • Noah Feldman
    • Pete Hamill
    • Edwin T. Hunt Jr
    • Michael Lerner
    • William Leuchtenburg
    • Martin E. Marty
    • Catherine Gilbert Murdock
    • Daniel Okrent
    • Ruth P. Smith
    • John Paul Stevens
    • Margot Loines Wilkie
    • Joshua M. Zeitz
  • Country of origin: United States
  • Producers: Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick, Ken Burns
  • Running time: 5 1/2 hours
  • Production companies: Florentine Films, WETA, Prohibition Film Project
  • Distributor: PBS
  • Original release: October 2 – October 4, 2011

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