×
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

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer Focuses on New Cast Member Aaron Paul

    Ahead of the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” HBO released the first trailer for the new season of another flagship show: “Westworld.” The first look at the third season of the sci-fi show puts the focus on new series regular Aaron Paul, best known for his run on “Breaking Bad.” The trailer doesn’t reveal [...]

  • AMERICAN IDOL - "218 (Season Finale)"

    Adam Lambert Does Double Performing Duty on 'Idol' as New Winner is Crowned

    A new “American Idol” winner was crowned Sunday night, but not before Adam Lambert returned to the stage for the season finale for a pair of performances that included his new single and a duet with eliminated contestant Dimitrius Graham Sunday. The show concluded with Louisiana teen Laine Hardy showered in confetti as he was [...]

  • Beyonce Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Worried Beyonce Would Hate Daenerys After 'Game of Thrones'' Final Season

    After eight seasons as the Mother of Dragons, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke has a lot of celebrity fans. But the most impressive? Probably Queen Bey. In a New Yorker interview posted after Sunday night’s series finale, Clarke revealed that she met Beyonce at an Oscars after-party hosted by the musician and her husband, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Finale

    Why the 'Game of Thrones' Finale Couldn't Have Satisfied Everyone

    The “Game of Thrones” finale may have achieved a strange feat: Aiming for fan service while being constrained, by its very nature, to the reality that it would end up pleasing only very few. The episode was larded with character touches designed for devotees — from a title, at long last, for fan favorite Bronn, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Finale

    'Game of Thrones': Celebrity Fans Have Mixed Reaction to Series Finale

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen the series finale of “Game of Thrones,” titled “The Iron Throne.”  Whether you loved it or hated it, the series finale of “Game of Thrones” was one for the history books. After the final episode aired Sunday night, fans across the globe took to [...]

  • ‘Game of Thrones’: 8 Shocking Moments

    ‘Game of Thrones’: 8 Shocking Moments From the Finale

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen the finale of “Game of Thrones.” Well, that’s it. After the “Game of Thrones” finale, many of us will likely emulate Jon Snow and just retire North of the Wall. It was billed as one of the biggest events in TV history, and showrunners [...]

  • Front row: CBS THIS MORNING co-hosts

    CBS Hurls New Anchor Team Into TV's Morning-News Wars

    News Team: Assemble. CBS News plans to hurl a new anchor squad into TV’s morning-news wars Monday when a different trio – Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil –  takes the helm at “CBS This Morning.” The A.M. effort that has won critical plaudits by focusing on harder news topics, like international affairs and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content