Perhaps History should just stay away from the Kennedy family for awhile. First, the channel commissioned a mind-numbingly dull miniseries it ultimately chose not to air, punting on the project, which wound up on ReelzChannel. Now, after TLC cobbled together “Kennedys’ Home Movies” from a French production, the channel gets there second with the stately “The Lost Kennedy Home Movies,” which struggles with the disparity between being significant and just mildly interesting. Those fascinated by America’s royalty will doubtless find moments to savor, but given the relative heft, two hours proves a bit of a slog.
Narrated by Liev Schreiber (who does such yeoman work on HBO’s sports documentaries), there’s certainly a regal quality to the production’s tone, which consists of footage — some previously unseen — mostly shot by Kennedy friends or the family itself.
Because most of the footage involves the family at play, however, there’s only so much insight to be gleaned from it. John Kennedy wincing because of his back pain; Jack and brother Bobby clowning on camera; Jack playfully cavorting with young women prior to his marriage; a visit to Saigon in 1951; Jacqueline Kennedy riding horses on a Virginia ranch her husband bought for her.
Tidbits about the family’s rich history dribble out along the way, but constructing the entire documentary around these unguarded scenes inevitably proves confining. The Kennedys participated in some of the most momentous events of the 20th century; once you’ve demonstrated they were human — that the brothers enjoyed blowing off steam together, that Jack was effortlessly good looking — there are only so many ways to keep echoing those points.
Not that Engle doesn’t try, and he enlists heavyweight historians Douglas Brinkley and Robert Dallek as talking heads, along with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and journalist Evan Thomas.
Still, if the dramatized “The Kennedys” emphasized the tabloid aspects of the family’s life — the affairs and patriarch Joe’s ruthlessness — “Home Movies” almost overcompensates by focusing so narrowly on these small interludes.
Anyone interested in the Kennedys or U.S. history (an area History, the channel, in its pursuit of younger demos covers less and less) will certainly find something here to engage them. Beyond serving as penance for past programming sins, however, the net result is still a lightweight look at a heavyweight political clan.