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Ask Not What ‘The Kennedys’ Can Do For You

08 April 2011 @ 10:55

Mrs. Belvedere and I have seen the first three parts [we’re DVRing it and catching each episode two days after it airs, so we are a bit behind] of the miniseries The Kennedys and, I must say, it has been worth our time.

It is pretty damn good considering the medium in which it is being presented. The miniseries is divided into eight parts and runs slightly over five and one-half hours. It covers the years 1937 through 1968 and given the complexity of the story, the amount of people in it, and the fact that some conversations can only be conjectured at, the creators have had to, as is demanded by the telling of any such true story, compress some events and invent dialogue. The key in any such endeavor is to capture the spirit of the the times and the people involved – truth, as they say, being more important than the facts.

So far, Joel Surnow and company deserve high marks for getting the spirit right. By necessity, some people and events have to be left out or only mentioned in passing and some of those people featured come off as a bit two-dimensional, but the makers of the series have captured well what animated this American family of Irish descent.

Greg Kinnear looks like JFK and has his awkward way of moving [caused by his ailments] down pat. It’s actually rather uncanny how much he naturally looks like the playboy President. He also manages very well to capture the good and bad features of the man – his sense of decency and self-knowledge of his inexperience, along with JFK’s spoiled-bratty immaturity and uncontrolled and reckless urges.

There have been a number of reviewers who have disparaged the choice of Barry Pepper as RFK because of his looks and his accent. They’re wrong. As one would expect from this fine actor, he seems to capture Bobby Kennedy very well. My only complaint is with the script writers who, rather too obviously, see him as the hero of this drama. So far, no mention has been made of just how ruthless he could be as was seen by his support and work for Senator Joseph McCarthy who he eventually turned against and, especially, by his work for the McClellan Committee where he had his famous run-in with Jimmy Hoffa. So far, he has been portrayed as the pure Kennedy. It will be interesting to see how his character evolves. Mr. Pepper, however, is turning in a fine performance.

Katie Holmes as Jackie O surprises, as she is very good. She also manages to make Mrs. Kennedy look more like we like to remember she looked [beautiful] than she actually looked [attractive but skinny].

Now, perhaps, for many of you like me, the biggest concern: the accents. The history of portraying people from Massachusetts is the history of getting it horribly, horribly wrong. Diane Lane in The Perfect Storm ruins her damn fine performance in that flick with a version of the accent that makes it seem as if everybody in Massachusetts speaks like the Kennedys – this is the usual MO for movies or TV. The family, though from Massachusetts originally, grew up and lived in New York, with time spent on Cape Cod in their isolated compound. Therefore, the accent of the generation of RFK and JFK is mostly New York with a bit of New England thrown in. Mr. Kinnear and Mr. Pepper have got it down and don’t make the mistake of going overboard as so many actors have [although, occasionally, Mr. Kinnear does, but he quickly recovers]. JFK’s accent was less in your face than RFK’s, and lower, and these two actors capture this fact. Katie Holmes as Jackie O is not as successful in capturing the First Lady’s Long Island drawl [which I always thought was funny coming from a lady who was supposed to be so aristocratic], but she makes a good effort and looks gorgeous. Mother Rose, portrayed by British actress Diana Hardcastle, is pitch-perfect, capturing that pretend-Brahmin accent so many self-made Irish affected [with often laughable results]. As for father Joe, Tom Wilkinson [who is married to Miss Hardcastle in real life] is, per usual, quite good in his accent [Joe liked to mix a pretend-Brahmin with a hard-boiled American one].

With all the controversy over the series and it’s cancelling by A&E, possibly under pressure from or to please the Kennedy Family, it was nice to discover that Mr. Surnow was subjected to a very informative interview over at The Atlantic by John Meroney. It is well-worth a read to understand the story behind the story. A highlight [tip of the fedora to Jason Apuzzo]:

At what point did you realize that this series was going to be controversial?From the day the people at the History Channel said they were going to green-light it. I always felt that my own politics were going to be a problem, and that the Kennedy family wouldn’t want a known conservative telling their story. I assume that they would want Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg telling their story, not a guy who’s a friend of Rush Limbaugh.

Tell us what happens when you spend $30 million on a series and the network cancels it before it even airs.First of all, that doesn’t happen in this town. There are lots of controversial shows and people out here. And we put together a brilliant, beautiful, classy show. It could be a Merchant Ivory film. But because the auspices weren’t acceptable—the auspices being me, a known conservative—this thing got derailed.

As you say, the history of Hollywood is full of controversial projects. But this is quite unusual in the way it’s been handled.I’m still asking myself how it all happened. We’ve got an all-star cast, award-winning people at every key position in the show. And you don’t get Tom Wilkinson, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, and Barry Pepper to do a show that’s some weird, agendized drama. That doesn’t happen.

Please do take the time to click here and read the rest.

  1. 09 April 2011 @ 09:52 09:52

    What the Kennedys can do for me is move the whole nutty clan back to County Cork and stay there lol

    Very enlightening post sir, linked @ Reaganite Republican:


  2. 10 April 2011 @ 03:19 03:19

    Barry Pepper is the surprise choice. A talented actor, but not someone I’d associate with a historical figure like Robert Kennedy.
    Hollywood’s a small town – Pepper and Kinnear have worked together before, but as business partners not brothers.

    • bobbelvedere permalink*
      10 April 2011 @ 16:31 16:31

      GN6: Mr. Pepper is surprisingly good in the part. He’s got the accent down, that’s for sure. As for his looks, they did the best they could it seems – he looks like RFK, if RFK’s skin was made out of clay. GK and BP have a good chemistry together, as well.

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