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“The Kennedys” Miniseries Review

4 Apr

Television review: ‘The Kennedys’

Despite several strong lead performances, it turns out that even an eight-part miniseries can’t do justice to the story of one of the country’s most dynamic, if flawed, political families.

April 01, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

 

The main problem with “The Kennedys,” the rumor-plagued, eight-part series that was rejected by the History Channel, which had commissioned it, before landing at ReelzChannel, is not one of politics or even accuracy but of scope. It is impossible to tell the story of this iconic family even in eight parts, even by limiting the timeline, as creators Stephen Kronish and Joel Surnow have done, to the years between the beginnings of World War II and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. There is too much back story, too many important events, and too many Kennedys.

Kronish addresses the last of these problems by simply cutting the family in half. “The Kennedys” that the title refers to are Joe Sr. (Tom Wilkinson), Rose (Diana Hardcastle ), John F. (Greg Kinnear) and his wife, Jacqueline (Katie Holmes), Bobby (Barry Pepper) and his wife, Ethel (Kristin Booth). Fourth daughter Patricia is seen briefly in one of the later episodes, married to Peter Lawford and playing hostess to one of his Marilyn Monroe-studded soirees, while Rosemary, the victim of an early lobotomy, appears briefly in flashback. But Kathleen (who died in an airplane crash in 1948); Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics and was married to Kennedy advisor Sargent Shriver; Jean, who eventually became U.S. ambassador to Ireland; and Edward (Teddy), the longtime Massachusetts senator and onetime presidential candidate, are not only not present, they are never even mentioned.

Which is much more troubling than the various scenes of infidelity (Joe’s and Jack’s), election “rigging” (Joe’s), mob connections (Joe’s) and drug use (Jack’s and Jackie’s) that have apparently raised the blood pressure of Kennedy historians, History Channel execs and various industry watchers for reasons that, while watching the actual episodes, is inexplicable. There is nothing in “The Kennedys” that hasn’t appeared before in reputable books, films and articles in the Kennedy-obsessed “Vanity Fair.”

An argument could be made that a channel called “History” might want to avoid docudramas, which rely on artistic interpretation, but if it was the intention of producer Surnow, a political conservative, to sully the Kennedy name, he certainly went about it in a strange manner. Jack and Bobby emerge splendid, smart and heroic despite their flaws, and even Joe, though portrayed as a ruthlessly ambitious father and truly awful husband, appears in the end guilty of little more than old-time campaign tactics and a once-oppressed immigrant’s dream of joining the ruling class.

Casting went a long way toward balancing the script’s inclusion of the unsavory side of being a Kennedy. Wilkinson can do just about anything at this point in his career, and he illuminates equally Joe’s hubris and desperate fear of failure, while, with his perpetually worried eyes, Kinnear plays a JFK in constant pain — from his back, from his father’s expectations, from his own infidelities. Don Draper certainly never felt this guilty about getting a little on the side.

The revelation of “The Kennedys” is Pepper, most recently seen as the snaggletoothed villain in “True Grit,” who delivers an Emmy-deserving performance, slowly building a Bobby who becomes the family’s, and the Kennedy administration’s, spine of steel, aware of the choices and sacrifices he is making and prepared to make them every time. As attorney general, Bobby is the president’s hammer even as he attempts to be his conscience.

The scenes among these three men alone are worth trying to find out if you get ReelzChannel. Unfortunately, they are too often being moved through historical events as if they were chess pieces and are surrounded by a supporting cast not up to their level. Holmes is pretty as Jackie, but her emotions are confined to happy (“I love him”) and sad (“He cheats on me”), with absolutely no nuance and only the occasional flash of spirit, intellect and inner strength that made Jacqueline Kennedy an icon in her own right. As Ethel, Booth is almost unbearably perky in early episodes, although she mellows as the series unfolds; the scenes between Bobby and Ethel are far more poignant and powerful than those between Jackie and Jack. Hardcastle (married to Wilkinson) can’t do much with a Rose who spends most of the series saying her rosary and making pronouncements about God’s will in a broad Eastern accent — it isn’t until the final episode that mention is made of the crucial role Rose played in the political careers of her sons.

But she is just another victim of the genre’s biggest danger. In attempting to be both sprawling and intimate, “The Kennedys” winds up in a narrative no-man’s land. So the tensions of Bobby taking on organized crime, the riots in Mississippi, the Cuban missile crisis and the strained relationship of the brothers with J. Edgar Hoover and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson are treated with the same time constraints and dramatic emphasis as Joe’s endless “recovery” from his stroke and Jackie’s realization that being a first lady is difficult.

While this “greatest-hits” pace does take the potential sting from the more salacious details — Jack’s infidelities are few and far between, Frank Sinatra is blamed for any mob-related fallout, the pep-me-up shots Jack and Jackie receive do little more than pep them up — it also buries the fine performances of its leading men, who too often seem to be simply marching toward their characters’ inevitable doom.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

“The Kennedys” Miniseries Dropped by History Channel; picked up by Reelz

2 Feb

From The Hollywood Reporter:

The controversial miniseries about the Kennedy family will have its world television premiere on April 3.

After a three-week journey, The Kennedys has found a home.

The controversial miniseries will world premiere on April 3 on the ReelzChannel, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Producers of the ambitious project from 24 executive producer Joel Surnow and writer Stephen Kronish have struck a deal with the independent, family-owned cable network to air the 8-part miniseires, which was abruptly yanked from the History channel on January 7 amid pressure from the Kennedys over its depiction of the political family. At the time, History owner A&E Television Networks told THR that “after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”

But it is certainly a fit for ReelzChannel, a 4-year old independent cable channel owned by Minnesota-based Hubbard Communications that is available in 60 million homes nationwide on services including DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Charter Communications.

Sources say the company stepped up with a big financial commitment for the lavish $30 million miniseries starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes and produced by Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment.

Gallup Poll: Kennedy Still Highest-Rated Modern President

8 Dec

 

85% Says It All

 

According to a new Gallup Poll, President John F. Kennedy continues to earn the highest retrospective job approval rating from Americans, now 85%.

Ronald Reagan ranks second, with 74%. While these presidents’ ratings are largely unchanged from 2006, Bill Clinton’s rating has improved, putting him in third place, while Jimmy Carter, at 52%, has dropped from third to sixth. Richard Nixon remains the lowest rated.

The poll was limited to approval ratings for American presidents who have served in the past 50 years.

Approval of How Past Presidents Handled Their Job -- Recent Trend (2006, 2010)

The Nov. 19-21 Gallup poll asked Americans to say, based on what they know or remember about the nine most recent former presidents, whether they approve or disapprove of how each handled his job in office.

Kennedy has consistently ranked No. 1 in this Gallup measure initiated in 1990.

 

 

Read full story here: Kennedy Still Highest-Rated Modern President, Nixon Lowest.

Op-Ed: Planned History Channel Miniseries “The Kennedys” Inaccurate; Distorted

26 Feb

 

The Kennedy Brothers

ISN’T ASSASSINATION ENOUGH?

LET THE KENNEDYS REST IN PEACE

Dear Friends —
 
I am taking time today to write and express my extreme displeasure with The History Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys. After reviewing portions of the draft script, I was floored by the sheer number of inaccuracies, distortions and omissions of essential facts in this docu-drama.
 
This is not what future generations should be learning about the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
 
As we reach the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration this year, presenting an epic miniseries which is not only grossly inaccurate but clearly designed to assassinate the character of a president who gave his life for this country, is wholly unacceptable to me. 
 
My daily concern as a historian, author and museum curator is the quality of education we are giving our children in the field of history. As a radio/print journalist, Kennedy scholar, and founder of several websites devoted to the Kennedy family legacy, I have devoted 25 years of my life to providing accurate information to anyone who is interested in learning about our nation’s 35th president and his family.
 
So when I see a script like The Kennedys, proposed to air on (of all places) The History Channel, I shudder to think of the potential and far-reaching consequences.
 
When fiction is presented as fact, that is entertainment. It is not history and has no place on The History Channel.
 
I am also highly offended that the same History Channel which brought us such outstanding documentaries as JFK: A Presidency Revealed and Turner’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy would ever stoop this low, becoming little more than a mouthpiece for right-wing rumormongering and propaganda the likes of which we would expect from Fox News.
 
Many of my fellow historians and researchers have joined together to let the History Channel know how we feel. We must try and stop this miniseries from being produced as currently written.
 
Please ask The History Channel to allow JFK’s living decendants, friends and key advisors – as well as credible historians and researchers – to consult on production of The Kennedys miniseries. Then, and only then, can we rest assured that this presentation on the Kennedy family is truly “fair and balanced.” 
 
Please take a few minutes to learn more about The Kennedys miniseries here:

History channel draws flak for planned JFK miniseries

Pittsburgh Post Gazette – Dave Itzkoff – ‎Feb 19, 2010‎

 Also please visit the website http://StopKennedySmears.com to view a short film directed by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films which features interviews with Ted Sorensen, David Talbot, Nigel Hamilton, Rick Perlstein, David Nasaw and other Kennedy historians expressing their shock and outrage at this deeply-flawed production. You can view some excerpts of the script and decide for yourself is this is what you want your grandchildren to know about President Kennedy and his family. 

If Jack Kennedy were alive today, he’d surely sue them for defamation of character and win. But since he’s sadly not here to defend himself, looks like it’s going to be up to those of us who still care to speak up before it’s too late. 

If you agree, I hope you will add your name to the petition at StopKennedySmears.com and tell the History Channel to present real history. 

Thank You,
 
 
New Frontier
Founding Editor
 

Rep. Kennedy Bows Out, Spelling End to Family Era

12 Feb

Kennedy’s Announcement a Stunner

 

From The Boston Globe

Feb. 12, 2010

WASHINGTON – US Representative Patrick Kennedy has decided not to seek reelection, capping a dramatic year for the Kennedy family and probably leaving it without a member in Washington for the first time in more than six decades.

Kennedy made the decision based on “some personal struggles,’’ including the death in August of his father, Edward M. Kennedy, according to a Democratic official briefed on the decision. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because Patrick Kennedy has not yet made a formal announcement.

That announcement is expected to come Sunday, when a TV advertisement taped by Kennedy is set to air in Rhode Island. In that tape, circulated by the media last night, Kennedy says his “life is taking a new direction, and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year.’’

In the two-minute ad, with soft music playing in the background, he says he wants to continue working to help those with depression, addiction, autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My father taught me that politics at its very core was about serving others,’’ Kennedy says in the video, as black-and-white images of him and his father flash across the screen. “For two decades I’ve been humbled and honored to represent the people of our state.’’

Unless another Kennedy decides to run for Congress and wins, Patrick Kennedy’s decision will mean that a Kennedy family member, or close associate, will not be serving in Congress next year for the first time since 1947. The Kennedys last month also saw the seat long held by the late senator go to Republican Scott Brown. Patrick Kennedy called Brown’s candidacy “a joke.’’

Kennedy, 42, has held the seat – one of two congressional seats in Rhode Island – for the past 16 years. Several close to Kennedy said last night that he had been mulling over the decision for as long as a year.

“This is something he’s been thinking about for a while,’’ said an official familiar with Kennedy’s thinking. “He and I talked about it about 10 months ago.’’

But he has also struggled with depression and drug addiction, and has made advocating for mental health treatment a political cause. He checked himself into an addiction treatment center last year because he said he was showing signs of a relapse.

In 2006, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs relating to an early-morning car crash outside the Capitol, he checked himself into the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

In his taped message, Kennedy thanked voters for their support, through his good times and bad.

“When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt, but compassion,’’ he said. “Thank you for all the times you lifted me up, pushed me forward.’’

Rhode Island’s voters have tended to forgive Kennedy, who was among the speakers at his father’s funeral last year, telling tales of both the struggles he had as a boy with asthma and how much he looked up to his father.

He has won reelection comfortably, but was being challenged this year by state Representative John J. Loughlin II, a Republican of Tiverton.

Kennedy has been seen as vulnerable, particularly after 62 percent of voters statewide gave the eight-term congressman an unfavorable job rating in a poll released last week by WPRI-TV (Channel 12). Just 35 percent of respondents in Kennedy’s district said they would vote to reelect him.

Kennedy was also a flashpoint recently when he clashed with Rhode Island Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who denied him Communion over his support for abortion rights. Kennedy was supporting a health care overhaul with a measure that provided for abortion rights, and criticized the church for opposing the legislation.

Word of Kennedy’s decision spread through the political world last night.

Raymond L. Flynn, former mayor of Boston, said he felt Kennedy made the right choice in passing on a reelection bid, since Democrats have had a “bad year’’ and the congressman is still reeling from the loss of his father.

“He feels terrible about the loss of his father, and to put himself through a difficult campaign is probably not in his best health interest,’’ Flynn said.

He said Rhode Island politicians of all stripes could make a serious run for Kennedy’s seat.

Scott Ferson, Democratic consultant and a former press secretary for Senator Kennedy, said the congressman views public service “like his father would.’’

That means “you don’t have to be in elective office to do the things you care about,’’ Ferson said. “It’s more expansive than that, and [Congressman Kennedy] obviously lost his best friend down there last year in Washington.’’

George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said he was shocked at the news. “It’s coming as a complete surprise,’’ Nee said.

Kennedy was first elected to a political office in 1988, when he won a seat in the Rhode Island State House at the age of 21.

Six years later, the boyish redhead was elected to the US House of Representatives and followed the advice of his father to be a workhorse, not a show horse, on Capitol Hill. He impressed colleagues by learning the names of the other 434 members of the House – an unusual feat in a chamber where few lawmakers, let alone freshmen members, can identify every one of their colleagues.

John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said he had “no idea’’ why Kennedy chose not to seek reelection, adding that politics is a “tough business’’ that takes a toll on elected officials and their families.

“I think the people of Rhode Island have been well represented by the congressman and his voice will be missed on the national stage,’’ Walsh said.

 

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Stewart Bishop contributed to this report.

Ted Kennedy’s Final Words

30 Aug

Sen. Kennedy’s casket is brought down the aisle at a private funeral service in Boston. Saturday, August 29, 2009

 

KENNEDY MAKES FINAL LETTER PUBLIC

 

*Editor’s Note: Shortly before his death, Senator Edward M. Kennedy wrote a letter to the Pope which President Obama personally delivered. This letter sums up the late Senator’s reflections at the end of his life and is deeply poignant. Although the letter was kept private until after his death, Kennedy obviously wanted to offer these words to the world as well, choosing to have it read aloud at his funeral service last week. This is Teddy’s farewell to you.

The letter reads:

“Most Holy Father,

I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me and I am so deeply grateful to him.

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during challenging times.

I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer over a year ago and although I am undergoing treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me.

I am 77-years-old and preparing for the next passage of life.

I’ve been blessed to be part of a wonderful family and both my parents, specifically my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives.

That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that i have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my past.

I want you to know, your Holiness, that in my 50 years of elected office I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I’ve opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a U.S. Senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life.

I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I’ll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

I’ve always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness. And though I have fallen short through human failings I’ve never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith.

I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

Read the Pope’s response.

Ted Kennedy Jr., the Senator’s widow Vicki and President Obama during the service

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and wife Mary Richardson arrive for the funeral service in Boston.

Sen. Kennedy’s children Patrick, Kara, Ted Jr. and his widow Vicki

President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy

Kennedy’s widow Vicki embraces the President

Edward Kennedy Grave Arlington Cemetery

Sen. Kennedy was laid to rest beside his brothers Jack and Bobby at Arlington Cemetery

Teddy Kennedy burial - surrounded by family

The graveside service at Arlington that evening: Kennedys say their last goodbyes.

Kennedy To Be Buried With Brothers At Arlington

26 Aug

KENNEDY TO BE BURIED WITH BROTHERS AT ARLINGTON

WASHINGTON – Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will lie in repose Thursday and Friday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, followed by his funeral Saturday at a city church and burial later that day near his slain brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy’s family plans to travel by motorcade with his body from their compound on Cape Cod, Mass., to the library in Boston on Thursday. The facility will be open to the public for certain periods on both days while Kennedy lies in repose. The Kennedys have planned a private memorial service at the library for Friday night, according to a schedule of events released by Kennedy’s Senate office.

On Saturday morning, a funeral Mass for the late senator will take place at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica — commonly known as the Mission Church — in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. The cavernous basilica on Tremont Street, built in the 1870s, was where Kennedy prayed daily while his daughter, Kara, successfully battled her own cancer.

“Over time, the Basilica took on special meaning for him as a place of hope and optimism,” the family statement said.

Kennedy died late Tuesday after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.

A burial service at Arlington was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Kennedy, who served in the Senate for nearly half a century, will be laid to rest near his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, on the famous Virginia hillside that serves as the burial sites of others from the storied clan, including former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

At the site of the eternal flame rest four Kennedy family members: the former president and his wife; their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days; and a stillborn child. Robert Kennedy’s grave is a short distance away and somewhere near it is the most likely site for Edward Kennedy’s burial.

Senator Kennedy spent more days than most at Arlington visiting the graves of his beloved brothers and paying tribute to the fallen men and women of Massachusetts who gave their lives for our country,” the statement said.

A senior defense official said the Kennedy family some time ago approached the Army to explore the possibility of burying the senator at Arlington, the nation’s most celebrated burial ground of fallen military and the resting place of astronauts, Supreme Court justices and other giants in American history.

Kennedy is eligible for burial at Arlington by virtue of his service in Congress as well as his two years in the Army, 1951 to 1953. He was a private first class and served in the military police at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, then located in Paris and now in Belgium.

The family met with Arlington officials again Wednesday to finalize the plans, said a second defense official.

___

Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Philip Elliott in Oak Bluffs, Mass., and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this story.