Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Kennedys

For the past five weeks I have been watching 'The Kennedys' mini-series on BBC2. I had heard about the show before it came to England because of the controversy it caused in America. It had been made to air on the History Television, in fact it was the first original scripted series to be commissioned for the channel and had a reported $30 million budget. However, the show was subject to heavy criticism, with critics claiming it was historically inaccurate and presented one of America's most beloved and famous families in a negative and inappropriate light. It is rumoured that the remaining members of the Kennedy family threatened to sue the channel if they aired the show, eventually History Television released a statement saying "this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand," but a channel called ReelzChannel picked it up. I am currently in the process of writing a 5000 word essay about JFK and the show seemed like a more relaxing way to understand the Kennedy family, but I did watch it well aware that there were massive creative liberties taken.

When I reference it in my essay I will comment on the historical inaccuracies but here I will review it simply as a programme. Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine, The Last Song,) took on the lead role of John 'Jack' Kennedy, and he really does look a lot like him. Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Dawson's Creek, Tom Cruise's wife) plays the long suffering wife and perfect First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, True Grit,) as Robert 'Bobby' Kennedy, and Tom Wilkinson (In The Bedroom, Michael Clatyton) and Diana Hardcastle (Midsummer Murders, Silent Witness) as the patriarch and matriarch of the Kennedy family; Joe Sr and Rose.

The first episode opens in 1938 and shows Joe Sr. as the Ambassador in Britain showing his open support to the Munich Agreement, despite the current President FDR opposing it. Each episode has an element of politics to it, however the focus is always very much on the family relationships rather than the current events of the time. The Bay of Pigs disaster, for example, in episode 3 is sidelined by Joe Sr. blaming Bobby for not protecting Jack as both his brother and the Attorney General. Jackie also struggles with Jack's constant infidelities and turns Rose for advice. This is the general format for the series, politics is eclipsed by family drama, even the Cuban Missile crisis is, if not overtaken then definitely equal to, Jackie's humiliation at Jack's affair with Mary Meyer. And it is probably for this reason why the show was deemed not historically accurate enough for a history channel. One has to take both historic and creative licenses when recreating undocumented conversations, and it does make for more interesting television.

The programme jumps about in time, showing the Kennedy clan before, after and during Jack's presidency. In the earlier times, primarily before Jack becomes President, Joe Sr. is painted as a cruel and ruthless man who expected his children to live out his unfulfilled dreams. From my research, I have ascertained that this is probably an accurate portrayal of a man who would stop at nothing to have one of his sons inside the White House. Joe suffers a severe stroke and we are left with a shell of a man, who dribbles rather pathetically and is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. We end up pitying Joe Kennedy. 

Over the first six episodes, without realising it, I had become quite attached to the characters, especially Jack and Bobby, therefore I found the penultimate episode quite emotional. Not to spoil the show for you, but Jack does get shot dead (I know, I know, I bet none of you saw that coming.) In the same episode, they lose their newborn son, Patrick and you see Jack telling Jackie that he's going to change, that he's done with his philandering ways. It is a clear romanticism of Jack's death, adding to the tragedy of his death by leaving the unfulfilled promise of a happy family behind as well as the Presidency. But it worked, I couldn't help but shed a tear.

The final episode aired last night, and I wasn't sure what to expect, given the fact that the protagonist was dead, but this episode focused on Bobby Kennedy. It showed his changed attitude following his brothers death, his constant support of Jackie and her children, and his new political drive. We see how he is motivated to run for office himself, to continue Jack's legacy and dreams for America. We watch as he becomes the senator of New York and then employs the same tactics that won Jack the election in his own Presidential campaign. In the scene where Jackie phones him up and tells him she is going to marry Aristotle Onassis, it felt as though the Kennedy dynasty really was coming to an end. A feeling confirmed in the following scene when Bobby Kennedy is shot dead in the Ambassador Hotel in California. The final poignant, scene of the eight episode mini series was a flashback to Jack's inauguration night, with each character making a toast to the future, a future that never quite came to fruition.

Large historical licence taken? Yes. Slightly dodgy accent from Katie Holmes at times? Oh yes. Emotional, intriguing and worth watching? Definitely.

By Talia

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