Film and TV

KEN BURNS’ PROHIBITION (Documentary) 10GPP – Available now from Amazon £24.99

by on 15/11/2012
Editor Rating
Total Score


 Straight to the point : You get what you expect from Ken Burns and this amazing and insightful series is no different.  A pleasure to watch, on a subject I know little about. 


From legendary film maker Ken Burns and Lynn Novic comes a fascinating look into the rise and fall of the Prohibition time in America and the aftermath of this defining era.

PROHIBITION is an Emmy®-nominated five-part, six hour documentary film set in the era of bathtub gin, bootleggers and speakeasies. The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to improve the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. Instead, Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system and caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun. The story of PROHIBITION is a compelling saga that goes far beyond the often told tales of gangsters, rum runners and flappers to reveal a complicated and divided nation in the throes of momentous transformation.

Featuring voiceovers from legendary actors including Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons, PROHIBITION raises vital questions that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago – about means and ends, individual rights and responsibilities, and the proper role of government. A must watch for everyone. “Sex, violence, unruly women and thugs with tommy guns. Ken and Lynn have uncovered fascinating characters that will bring this era to life for viewers.” – John F. Wilson, PBS chief TV programming executive


What we like

Why fix what isn’t broken – Ken Burns has a winning formula for documentaries and Prohibition follows it to the letter, down to the red underlined title, the atmospheric music, artistically filmed landscapes, period pictures and the voice over acting. For some people this might be counted as a bad thing but for me, in documentaries especially, if it isn’t broken, why fix it? It really made a subject I generally wouldn’t have a lot of interest in, interesting.

Making an uninteresting era (for me) interesting I know very little, and have even less interest in any period that doesn’t involve some sort of big conflagration. Tending to skip over the 20s as if it were an annoying barrier in the way of my ongoing quest for WW2 knowledge.

Watching this series really changed my opinion (with a little help from boardwalk Empire) The tumult in the states , with its corruption, bootleggers, gang warfare and diplomatic wrangling has never looked so interesting and not one pitched battle in sight!   

Maps – when I saw that the formula was just like ACW I thought to myself (and wrote it down) I wouldn’t be surprised if he fired in some maps as well, and, as if my magic, what appears on the screen? A map! Can’t have a good documentary without maps now can you.

I didn’t know that! – Ok as I said I didn’t know a lot about prohibition in the first place but as always Ken Burns seems to know how to keep people’s attention, whilst dropping factual gems on your in a nonchalant sort of way . Factoids like – the average American before prohibition drank 88 bottles of whisky!  (I doubt I go through 1 in 10 years!) Drinking alcohol was not illegal, and people who had bought booze before the 18th amendment was ratified were allowed to keep it; Also many states refused to pay for the enforcement of the law and just let the undermanned and funded federal government deal with the issue. No wonder the speak easy, bootlegger and corruption thrived.

Watch PBS Previews: PROHIBITION on PBS. See more from Prohibition.


As with ACW review I have no real gripes with this series. I believe there are a few factual inaccuracies and apparently some of the music is not of the era but I don’t know a lot about the 20s and to be honest, any such inaccuracies, passed over my head.


Prohibition was something I knew little about and had no real interest in learning more on, but this series changed my mind (with a little help from Boardwalk Empire)  If you are watching Boardwalk Empire at the minute and want to find out more behind the series then this is the documentary to watch. A thoroughly interesting and insightful experience; a must watch.