×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot

Focusing on the three wives of the three Kennedy brothers, the pic flirts rather perilously with campiness early on, but lets its more heartfelt side take over as it proceeds from JFK's election as president in 1960 to Ted Kennedy's defeat for the same office in 1980.

With:
Jackie Kennedy - Jill Hennessy Ethel Kennedy - Lauren Holly Joan Kennedy - Leslie Stefanson John F. Kennedy - Daniel Hugh Kelly Robert F. Kennedy - Robert Knepper Ted Kennedy - Matt Letscher Joe Kennedy - Harve Presnell Rose Kennedy - Charmion King

Destiny hangs, decidedly shroud-like, over “Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot,” an NBC mini that’s had its airing delayed a couple of times, most recently due to an unwise proximity to the election. Focusing on the three wives of the three Kennedy brothers, the pic flirts rather perilously with campiness early on, but lets its more heartfelt side take over as it proceeds from JFK’s election as president in 1960 to Ted Kennedy’s defeat for the same office in 1980. This isn’t exactly classy stuff, washing plenty of familiar dirty laundry in public, and it covers too much ground to bother with insight, but it achieves moments of genuine poignancy nonetheless. After all, it’s a helluva tale.

Jill Hennessy, of “Law & Order” fame, portrays the inimitable Jackie, icon of elegant suffering. It’s not ideal casting. Even with costume designer Arthur Rowsell’s carefully re-created garments and hairdos that give her the right look, Hennessy simply doesn’t possess the right natural grace. But this pic has a habit of telling us more that it shows us, and the actress manages to communicate the most important elements of the story without ever making it especially convincing.

As Robert’s wife Ethel, Lauren Holly (“Picket Fences”) is clipped and notably unrefined, transforming this lesser known figure into a potentially catty villain, before we realize over time that she means well.

David Stevens’ teleplay, based on J. Randy Tarraborrelli’s book, effectively captures the contradictions in the relationship between these two women, who were so very different that they struggled to get along, but who could count on each other in the worst times of distress. Leslie Stefanson (“The General’s Daughter”) plays Ted’s first wife Joan, who struggled with alcoholism and seems happiest when Ted’s in traction.

Overall, it’s relatively well-done. It does hold your attention, particularly when, leading up to the assassinations, the dramatic irony comes to the forefront.

Director Larry Shaw lingers too much over Jackie’s blood-stained glove after JFK (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is shot, but that’s a forgivable indulgence. The second evening takes off from that point, and obsesses less with the husbands’ affairs and more with the women finding their own identities.

The question remains: Exactly what purpose does a TV movie like this serve in our culture? Is it an opportunity for people to purge their grief once again, to mix an injection of nostalgia with their sadness? Or is it intended to allow the audience to look down on, or at least pity, the people who once seemed so admirable and glamorous? Is this soap opera, or grand tragedy?

It’s both, of course, and this combination gives this entire endeavor, and others of its ilk, a distinct layer of seediness. One minute, husband and wife discuss saving the free world from nuclear destruction, the next they’re engaged in a fleeting domestic quarrel.

This mini, as it must, equates these issues in scale, unwittingly reducing both. While the mini gives the Kennedy boys their due as political leaders, it not surprisingly seems determined to avoid a real point of view on the times it depicts, and even avoids too harsh a judgment on the male philandering it consistently alludes to.

Shaw wants to leave the moral evaluations to the audience, and therefore works hard at making sure the film has no ideas of its own.

Still, when the tragedy starts hitting, and then hits again, and again, it becomes more and more difficult to resist the sense that this story does cover some deep dark human ground worth exploring.

This is the story of the most famous American family of all. It’s a story of ambition attained, dreams deflated, ideals compromised, but above all, it’s a story of pure, unrelenting resilience. What makes the Kennedy women dramatic heroes? They endured.

Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot

NBC; Sun., March 4 and Mon., March 5; 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto, Canada by Just Singer Entertainment. Executive producer, Sheri Singer; producer, Kay Hoffman; co-producer, Georgene Smith; line producer, Emanuel Danelon. Directed by Larry Shaw; written by David Stevens, based upon the book by J. Randy Taraborrelli.

Crew: Cinematography, Frank Byers; production design, Curtis Schnell; editor, Terry Blythe; costumes, Arthur Rowsell; music, Martin Davich; casting, Natale Hart, Jason La Padura, Jon Comerford. 4 HOURS

Cast: Jackie Kennedy - Jill Hennessy Ethel Kennedy - Lauren Holly Joan Kennedy - Leslie Stefanson John F. Kennedy - Daniel Hugh Kelly Robert F. Kennedy - Robert Knepper Ted Kennedy - Matt Letscher Joe Kennedy - Harve Presnell Rose Kennedy - Charmion KingWith: Thom Christopher, Tom Howard, Tamsin Kelsey, Kaya McGregor, Paul Gordon, Joy Tanner.

More TV

  • 'Walking Dead' Profits Dispute Heading to

    'Walking Dead' Profits Dispute Heading to Trial

    The long-running legal battle between Frank Darabont and AMC over profits from “The Walking Dead” will run a bit longer, as a judge ruled Monday that the case must go to trial. Darabont and CAA sued the network back in 2013, arguing he was deprived of $280 million in profit participation because AMC did not [...]

  • CBS Studios Exterior

    CBS Sells Television City Production Studio

    CBS sold its venerable Television City production facility, one of Hollywood’s most storied production studios, in a deal the company says will give it more flexibility to invest in content for digital audiences. CBS said Monday it signed a definitive agreement to sell the sound stages and studios that have hosted programs ranging from “All [...]

  • Filmax Snags Top Spanish Kids Feature

    Filmax Snags Top Spanish Kids Feature ‘The Lunnis’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Barcelona-based sales agency Filmax announced today at Argentina’s Ventana Sur market, that it has acquired the rights to the film adaptation of RTVE’s preschool children’s part-puppet, part-live action and part-animated kids’ show “The Lunnis,” titled “The Lunnis and the Great Fairy Tales Adventure.” The announcement was made with an accompanying trailer for the film, slated [...]

  • Jean Marc Vallee

    Jean-Marc Vallée to Direct 'Gorilla and the Bird' Limited Series at HBO

    Jean-Marc Vallée has lined up yet another HBO project. Vallée has signed on to direct and executive produce the limited series “Gorilla And The Bird,” based on the memoir of the same name by  Zack McDermott, at the premium cabler. It is described as an inspirational tale of a mother’s unconditional love for her bipolar [...]

  • Joanna Klein Jennie Urman

    Jennie Snyder Urman, Joanna Klein Launch Prodco at CBS Television Studios

    “Jane The Virgin” creator Jennie Snyder Urman and development executive Joanna Klein have partnered to launch their own production company, Sutton St. Productions, Variety has learned. The duo has multiple projects in development under their new production banner, including the comedies “You’re Killing Me” for streaming service CBS All Access and “Riches to Rags,” which is in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content