It's not hard to see why the History Channel declined to air The Kennedys
after members of America's "royal family" objected to the series' more salacious aspects. To be sure, there are plenty of them: drug habits, mobsters, election fixing, enough philandering to shame Tiger Woods, bad behavior ranging from cynical manipulation to outright cruelty… and Marilyn Monroe. But it's not as if these things haven't been covered at length elsewhere. And in any case, this is hardly a documentary; the eight-part miniseries, which spans the years from just before World War II to 1968, has been variously described, including by the filmmakers themselves, as "history through personality" and "a Greek tragedy," with a dose of hagiography added for good measure. The emphasis on the personal approach (commingled with major political events like the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Cuban missile crisis, and the forced integration of the University of Mississippi) is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there's something appealingly juicy about being privy to the private conversations of this very public family; but at the same time, the dialogue created for such scenes is often on the nose ("Men can't say no to me," Monroe says as she tries to seduce Robert Kennedy), melodramatic, and risibly portentous ("I've never been so happy in my life," says Jackie Kennedy to her husband… as Air Force One lands in Dallas on November 22, 1963).
The complete absence of Edward Kennedy--who is never mentioned, let alone seen--is peculiar; sisters Kathleen, Eunice, and Jean are also nowhere to be found. That leaves the primary focus on paterfamilias Joseph Kennedy Sr., wife Rose, sons Jack and Bobby, and Jackie, and the portrayals of these near-mythic characters are among the best ever filmed. Tom Wilkinson plays Joe as a thoroughly ruthless, imperious kingmaker who, after his own and eldest son Joe Jr.'s presidential ambitions are ended (Sr. was fired from his post as British ambassador after disagreeing with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's war policies, while Jr. died in combat), forces the reluctant JFK to enter politics. As Jack, Greg Kinnear beautifully conveys the late president's humor, charisma, and compassion, while Barry Pepper is a revelation as the rebellious but strait-laced and dutiful Bobby, whose principal responsibility seems to be cleaning up after his older brother's many sexual indiscretions (Katie Holmes's long-suffering Jackie is a bit of a cipher, as was the first lady in real life). That these and other performances, including Diana Hardcastle's Rose and Don Allison's Lyndon Johnson, are in the service of material better suited to a soap opera than a serious drama hardly matters; any way you look at it, The Kennedys is compulsively watchable and never less than entertaining. --Sam Graham
Inspired by one of the world’s most iconic families, this eight-part scripted drama/miniseries ventures upstairs at the White House to chronicle the saga of America’s first “royal” family during the 1960s. Through exhaustive research, THE KENNEDYS provides an intimate look at how Joseph Kennedy, Sr. shaped his sons John and Robert to become two of the most influential men in America’s history. With political events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs and the civil rights movement playing background to the personal stories of the relationships between brother and brother and father and son, THE KENNEDYS details how the two men handled their father, whose ambition exceeded their own, and ultimately made them who they were. THE KENNEDYS recounts the scandal, tragedy, public greatness and private frailty of our nation’s most fabled political family during one of the most momentous decades in history.
BONUS FEATURE: Includes 45 minute featurette The Kennedys: From Story to Film with behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews.