It may seem inappropriate for me to start a piece about miniseries ‘The Kennedys’, which aired on the BBC this week in the UK, with a rant about Sky Atlantic’s acquisition of 'Mad Men' in Britain. Well here’s my reasoning. I absolutely, totally, utterly, love 'Mad Men'. Truly, madly, deeply. Call it a devotion. My son buys me all the DVDs, I’ve watched all the progs up to now on the BBC. And Murdoch’s Sky TV has bought it. I don’t have Sky TV – it’s expensive, and I don’t like Murdoch taking over our air waves.
So on to ‘The Kennedys’. Controversial apparently. Now you may wonder – what does some Brit have to say about it? What can she know? Well I have an honours degree in American Studies. ‘America in the 60s and 70s’ was my favourite subject. History, literature, politics. I have opinions about the Kennedys. Crap ones, probably, but at least I have some history with the subject. So then, the miniseries. What was the big deal? Give me 'Mad Men' any day of the week, for period style, veritas, that breathless sense of ‘being there’. The need to know what happens next. For strong, well rounded female characters (and no, no pun intended). Oh, and thanks again, Rupert Murdoch, for ruining my life.
What was controversial about ‘The Kennedys’? Seems it’s something to do with conservatives in the American media rating it because it dissed the Kennedys, whilst the real life Kennedys tried to stop it being broadcast for the same reason. Then it was pulled from the schedules of The History Channel, US. Well it was a drama, not a documentary so it seems an odd fit for a channel about History – and here’s where Murdoch comes in again. He part owns The History Channel UK – and they aired it. I doubt he has the integrity to care whether it was historically accurate or not. This is just my personal opinion, mind. I wasn’t there when he made the decision to buy it after all, so how can I know?
As to dissing the Kennedys, I don’t quite get that bit. They may have been turned into unremarkable caricatures, but I don’t think they were given a bad time, fact wise, though killing sacred cows may not be a welcome pastime on either side of the Atlantic. The Kennedys are arguably America’s royal family. When Joe Senior, as masterfully played by Tom Wilkinson tells his son Jack ‘She’s smart, well bred, damn attractive. That’s all to our advantage. Just stay discreet, wives don’t expect fidelity but they don’t want infidelity thrown in their faces’, it could have been Prince Philip talking to his son Charles about Diana. Could have been. And that’s the main problem. Any drama doc must rely on intuition, hearsay, and plain invention. How can we know what Jackie and JFK said to each other when they were alone? Well we can’t, though the scriptwriters had a stab at it, with a very melodramatic background music score. So history? Not really.
The Kennedys is a super soap, a family drama with powerful players. The acting is wooden – Greg Kinnear plays JFK with sincerity and absolutely no charisma, and Katie Holmes as Jackie K. seems overwhelmed by the iconic nature of the part. I do think Joe Senior was brilliantly cast, but he dominates his sons to such an extent they can only seem weak and uninspiring. Barry Pepper as Bobby hints at hidden depths which I hope is developed as the show progresses. But the problem is, it’s all very ‘Dallas’. I only now realize JR – elder brother- and Bobby – younger brother – may well have been modelled on JFK and Bobby. Although that may be a controversial statement. JR was a two timing, money obsessed, playboy snake in the grass, after all. Though I reckon that when we get to Cuba, President John F Kennedy will be portrayed as the saviour of the western world. Nothing new there then!
Eileen O'Sullivan watched The Kennedys on Brit TV