Nobody will confuse “Teddy: In His Own Words” with a hard-hitting expose, but it’s nevertheless an engrossing and sentimental look at one of the most eventful lives of our times, as the Senate’s liberal lion, now 77, battles a brain tumor. There are so many indelible images, that a 90-minute documentary struggles to do Kennedy’s story justice, though anyone expecting pointed mention of the darker side of the tale — beginning with Chappaquiddick –surely will be disappointed.
Produced by Peter Kunhardt (whose resume includes earlier tributes to Kennedy’s brothers John and Bobby), the documentary is selectively punctuated by Ted Kennedy’s reminiscences about his life, while drawing from a treasure trove of family video and photos as well as news archives.
Underscoring how the Kennedys grew up in the public eye, there’s grainy video of Kennedy as a child when his father Joseph was the U.S. ambassador to London; of Ted with his brother Joe — 17 years his senior — who died in the war; even of the assembled family watching election returns in 1960, when John became president.
Kennedy himself was voted into the Senate in 1962, and there are striking glimpses of him — young and matinee-idol handsome — joshing around with brother Bobby and later memorably eulogizing him, his voice cracking as he fights back tears.
At times — notably, during certain painful moments in his biography — Kennedy’s narration disappears for stretches. Nor is there any sense he was pressed to discuss more uncomfortable episodes, particularly the 1969 car accident at Chappaquiddick that claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne and dogged him for the rest of his career — probably thwarting his own belated primary run against Jimmy Carter a decade later.
Even so, there are so many gems here, such a richness of detail, that it’s hard to know where to begin, including recordings of then-President Richard Nixon — obsessed with the Kennedys — strategizing about how to smear Ted with “scandal or impropriety.”
“Teddy” takes on an especially poignant aura in light of Kennedy’s illness, which didn’t prevent him from emotionally returning to the Senate and endorsing Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention.
For conservatives, Kennedy has always been a fashionable target, but “Teddy” brilliantly reminds us what he and his family have sacrificed for their country. The words “thank you” are never uttered, but watch and listen closely and you can almost hear them.