Was John F. Kennedy a hero or an incompetent in the PT 109 story? Did patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy use the Chicago mob to steal the Illinois presidential vote in 1960? What was the truth about Jack Kennedy’s womanizing? Did the Bay of Pigs disaster play a role in President Kennedy’s assassination? How involved were the Kennedy brothers with Marilyn Monroe? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?
The questions about the Kennedy family never seem to end. Which is why the History Channel produced a nine hour miniseries with Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as the king and queen of Camelot, and Barry Pepper as King Arthur’s trusted knight Bedevere, or should that have been Lancelot? And that question is only one of the reasons that the Kennedy family pulled out their biggest guns to stop the debut of another nod to America’s obsession with the Kennedys.
This time, it worked, sort of. Before the premiere, the History Channel pulled the mini-series from its line-up, stating that, even though they had produced the project, it wasn’t the kind of thing that they wanted to be involved with. But in this day and age when everybody seems to have their own network, a line soon formed to go where the History Channel feared to tread. The series was soon announced to be premiering in France, leaving folks in the USA wondering what was so bad in it that they weren’t supposed to see. But Reelz Channel stepped up and bought the US rights.
Well, I finally got around to seeing the series on Reelz, which premiered it on April 3rd. Quite frankly, I find myself agreeing with the Kennedy family.
That said, Greg Kinnear does the best job of portraying Jack Kennedy that I’ve seen. Ditto Katie Holmes and Barry Pepper (though I tend to prefer Steven Culp’s Bobby Kennedy in Thirteen Days).
So, if the top three stars did laudable jobs, why do I agree with the attempts to squelch the series in the US? Because the writers tried to pay lip service to every conceivable story ever told about the Kennedy family. And, man! Did they ever use a shotgun.
First, reflecting a growing revisionist movement concerning the PT 109 incident, the writers have Joe Kennedy Jr. demean his brother’s medal, saying that perhaps he should have been court-martialed for losing his boat. All done in the name of jealousy. From where I sit, that was a cheap shot at both JFK and his soon-to-be late brother Joe. While my research hasn’t been exhaustive, I have to think that somebody, in the process of writing the screenplay, jumped up and said, “Hey, we’ve got to include a swipe at that PT 109 thing! Let’s have Joe Jr. do it out of jealousy. He’s dead. He can’t dispute us.”
And we’re treated to a toadying Frank Sinatra acting as go-between with the elder Joe Kennedy and Sam Giancana on the 1960 election, with later hints that maybe Sam had a hand in the Dallas tragedy. Nothing concrete, you understand. Just a hint. But enough. Just like the scenes of the Cuban exiles and the CIA’s outrage over Kennedy denying the exiles air cover when they landed at the Bay of Pigs. Nothing heavy-handed. But enough.
Marilyn Monroe was dealt with in a series of strange, flashback sequences that dealt more with the temptation of Bobby Kennedy (who comes off as the most moral, ethical man in human history) than it does with JFK and Marilyn.
Indeed, the entire last episode is very nearly a montage of brief scenes that seem to imply that Bobby and Jackie had something going on after Jack was assassinated. Their touching, lingering phone calls leave little to the imagination, thus invoking the RFK/Lancelot comparison. The miniseries ends with a long shot of Jackie talking with the stroke-afflicted Joe Kennedy at Hyannisport.
The whole message seemed to be: everything you ever heard about the Kennedys MIGHT be true.
The only figure that emerges standing taller and more respectable is, of all people, Lyndon Johnson. He’s depicted as Jack Kennedy’s right hand man in the South, instrumental in handling civil rights problems and a virtual saint in the aftermath of Dallas. I don’t believe a lot of what has been printed about Johnson over the last thirty years, but to portray him as JFK’s buddy goes a bit too far for any well read, rational person to accept. I was left wondering if one of Johnson’s PR people was the screenwriter.
So, I can easily see why the Kennedy family objected so vehemently to this production. The folks behind it claimed that those objections came from the reading of an early draft of the script. If the early draft was worse than the one they used, it must have been truly heinous and deserved every bit of the criticism of Kennedy partisans such as Ted Sorensen. It wasn’t the worst 8 hours that I’ve ever spent. But it told me more about the writers than about the Kennedys.