May 06, 2002 12:00 PM

Ulysses S. Grant

PBS (Sun., May 5 and 12, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

This four-hour profile of the Civil War hero and two-term President is more than a valuable work of history. It’s a darn good story.

There’s nothing like reversals of fortune to fuel a drama, and Ulysses S. Grant’s life had them aplenty. The” military genius who took Vicksburg became the blunderer blamed for the Union’s horrific casualties at Cold Harbor. The popular general who won the White House with the slogan “Let Us Have Peace” found himself unable to reconcile the regions or curb the corruption in his administration. The cigar-smoking former President thought he’d made a couple of million on Wall Street; before long he was broke and battling throat cancer.

Sympathetic but balanced, the two-part documentary doesn’t claim to have Grant entirely figured out. At one point three experts offer three different opinions on whether he really wanted the highest office. Nevertheless the film brings its subject to life in all his triumphs, setbacks and contradictions. In the end we’re moved by Grant’s dying struggle to complete his memoirs because we know his 63 years were filled with page-turner material.

Bottom Line: Fine portrait of a flawed hero

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