Tag Archives: Edward M. Kennedy

“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

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The Remarkable Life of Ted Kennedy

15 Feb

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO TEDDY

* As Senator Edward M. Kennedy continues to battle terminal brain cancer, The Boston Globe paid homage’ to this icon of American politics with a lengthy biography published just before his 77th birthday.

Edward Moore Kennedy, ninth child of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, was born on Feb. 22, 1932 – which just happened to be the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. Whether or not he took it as an omen, the proud father, who already envisioned a Kennedy becoming the first Catholic president, often pointed out the felicitous date to others.

Ironically, the presidency would not be bestowed upon Teddy, of course. Nor would it be in the destiny of JP Kennedy’s eldest son Joe Jr., the one his father had always predicted would be president.

As fate would have it, the only member of the Kennedy family who achieved that goal was the one assumed least likely to make it: Joe’s second son, the chronically (and often seriously) ill John F. Kennedy.

And as fate would also decree, President Kennedy’s time in that high office would be tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet after little more than a thousand days.

Jack’s younger brother Robert, attorney general of the United States, was next in line to lead the family political dynasty. Bobby picked up the torch and attempted to reclaim the presidency in his brother’s memory. After being elected senator from New York in 1964, RFK ran for the White House four years later and may well have completed the journey had it not been for his ill-fated campaign stop at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4, 1968.

Ted (L), Jack (center) and Bobby (R) in Washington, D.C., 1958

Ted (L), Jack (center) and Bobby (R) in Washington, D.C., 1958

After losing all three of his elder brothers and seeing his father incapacitated by a stroke, Ted Kennedy, then-senator from Massachusetts, suddenly became the unlikely patriarch. For the next 40 years, not a day would pass that Teddy didn’t have someone approach and ask him to run for the presidency.

Despite a 1964 plane crash that almost killed him and the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident which nearly ruined his political career, Ted Kennedy did make a run for the White House in 1980, but lost the Democratic nomination to President Jimmy Carter. Well, he gave it the old college try, as they say, then he wisely chose to spend the rest of his years focusing on the responsibility of being a U.S. Senator. Ted seemed happy with his choice and never looked back.

But that didn’t stop people from asking. Would he ever run again? Why not the Presidency, they asked him over and over again as the years turned into decades. He’d say no a thousand times, and still the question was repeated.

Well, they finally stopped asking one day last May. When it became known that Senator Kennedy had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, that long-held dream of putting the last Kennedy brother in the White House was over.

As Ted Kennedy prepares to sail on his final voyage, heading for that bright horizon where he will reunite with all of his beloved friends and family who sailed before him, we’d like to encourage our readers to honor his birthday and celebrate his remarkable life. One way to do it is to take some time out of your busy day and read this well-researched and often moving tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy in the Boston Globe. Highly recommended.

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