Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Kennedys is a Triumph for Tom Wilkinson

I am thoroughly enjoying 'The Kennedys' on BBC2, which has been slated by various lobbying groups in America.

Joe Kennedy
Now don't get me started on the politics of it all. What a fascinating period: America's first Catholic president, yet deeply flawed in his personal life; the Bay of Pigs; the Cuban Missile Crisis; Joe Kennedy; the mob; the Vietnam build-up, and eventually Lee Harvey Oswald and all the 'grassy knoll' palaver.

Aside from all that the series is yet another triumph for Tom Wilkinson who plays the Kennedy patriarch, the man who established a powerful political family which tried to be all-powerful but, even in my day, knew more than its fair share of tragedy.

A few years ago on hols in Boston we saw Ted Kennedy stood on the steps of the Massachusetts governor's house. Now he was the bete noir of my (in-law!) Uncle Maynard who is, I'm sure he won't mind me saying, a New England red-meat Republican.

But love him or loathe him (and I think the Kennedys, like the Clintons after them, inspire such polarised feelings) it was strange seeing him in the flesh (fully clothed of course!). Despite him being a living, breathing person, it was like taking a fleeting glimpse into an oligarchy, an establishment, an edifice. Perhaps he felt the same way on seeing the Hurleys go past in a large yellow tourist boat on wheels? Who knows!

Tom Wilkinson in the role.
Anyhoo - back to Tom Wilkinson. He grabs the character of Joe Kennedy by the lapels and conveys all the power lust, control, conflicting religious background and the way his veins seem to run icy cold when it came to attaining positions of power for those in his family.

Like few other actors, Wilkinson can really make a role his own, and even in some ropey films, he will generally carry the character to the extent that you still enjoy watching his performance. He stood out as the jailed priest in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a chilling film based on a true story.

With so much junk on TV, it's a joy to watch The Kennedys. If only so us 'limeys' get to know a little more about the American politics of the 60s.

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