It’s not really a secret that the Kennedy family fascinates me a great deal. After all, “they didn’t change history, they made it”, as the new eight-part miniseries’ tagline says. This incredibly lucky, and incredibly tragic family ruled American politics for decades and thanks to them, many changes for the better (and some for the worse) shaped their country and the world to the place it is today.
There are hundreds of films of the lives of John F Kennedy, his brother Robert F Kennedy, their father Joseph P Kennedy and John’s widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. But for the first time, a six-hour miniseries depicts the life of the entire family in the middle of the 20th century (however, interestingly ignoring Edward M Kennedy completely), starting from the patriarch Joe Kennedy’s ambassador days and ending with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. (This is not a spoiler—we all know already what happens to these people.
I think what makes this miniseries especially great is the fact that all selected actors resemble the real Kennedys so well it’s actually amazing. Who would have known that the young man who once played a homosexual artist, who pissed off Jack Nicholson, grows up to be a proper lookalike of Jack Kennedy? Who could have guessed that one of the best English actors makes his role of a lifetime as an unbelievably convincing Irish-American political patriarch?
It may very well be that this miniseries didn’t happen earlier exactly due to the fact that only now it was possible to compile such a magnificent cast who actually look like the actual Kennedy family in the 50ies and 60ies. Greg Kinnear’s portrayal of Jack was as if one was watching the actual Jack Kennedy. Barry Pepper as Bobby also played an excellent role as JFK’s go-to guy, beautifully portraying the choices and feelings real Bobby Kennedy might have had when he had to clean up after Jack’s conquests of women or when he had to deal with the aftermath of Jack’s assassination. Even Katie Holmes—the queen of pointless roles and bad acting—played Jackie Kennedy rather convincingly, although her smile is still as disastrous as ever.
But the best acting in the miniseries was definitely Tom Wilkinson’s. The two-time Academy Award nominee was absolutely brilliant as middle-aged Joseph Kennedy, the puppet master of the family, but he was even more brilliant playing the Joe Kennedy who was chained to his wheelchair after the stroke and “a prisoner in his own body”, as his wife Rose Kennedy (played by Diana Hardcastle, Tom Wilkinson’s actual wife!) put it. He marvellously acted out his own tragedy of being not able to move without assistance, and the tragedies that kept happening to the family. He managed, absolutely stunningly, to put all these emotions onto the stroke-stricken face of Joe Kennedy so that one might actually confuse the miniseries with a documentary. This time, he really deserves an Oscar.
And Greg Kinnear wasn’t bad either, quite the contrary. His face, his haircut, his gestures and his voice were all like real Jack’s. All the speeches he gave were like actual archive footage of the real president Kennedy. The funny accent he so keenly tried to make only added to the brilliance.
The one thing that the producers should have done was showing Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman who shot JFK from the book depository in Dallas. This has always been disputed and an addendum to the Warren Commission report noted a “possible conspiracy”, which means there could have been more than one shooter. Later, sound analysis has also confirmed the possibility of multiple shooters. This was completely ignored by the producers. I think that if they chose to ignore the controversy around JFK’s assassination, they should have ignored Oswald, too, only sounding the shots, but not bringing in an actual character shooting from the book depository.
Overall, it was a magnificent miniseries and coupled with utterly beautiful acting it is probably one of the best portrayals of the Kennedy family ever.