No family in recent times has captured the heart of the American public like the Kennedys. Even if you weren’t alive during their political reign, you know the stories of success and tragedy: the rise of John F. Kennedy to become America’s youngest (and arguably most beloved) president, the Cuban missile crisis, the moon landing, the assassinations of JFK and Robert Kennedy, the plane crash that killed JFK Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette. And those are just highlights. This picture-perfect family has long been haunted by what is colloquially called the Kennedy curse.
And now, a new movie arrives in theaters on Friday that’s focused on one of the most mysterious incidents in the family’s history: Chappaquiddick. The tragedy involved a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, who was killed when the car she was riding in, driven by Ted Kennedy, crashed through a bridge railing and landed in a river. Ted survived. Even though the incident happened almost 50 years ago, some people still want to know why Kopechne, who was single, was in the car in the first place with Ted, a married senator. Speculation has floated around that the accident was staged to cover up an affair.
Chappaquiddick, starring Jason Clarke and Kate Mara, provides one viewpoint on that night. The film then presses on, portraying the political scrambling to preserve Ted’s reputation and avoid what would have been considered scandalous accusations at the time. The lives and work of this close-knit family were inextricably linked, so before you see Chappaquiddick, you may want to sharpen up your Kennedy knowledge. It’s easy — as far as Hollywood is concerned, they’re one of the best subjects. Here are a few films and TV shows that will give you a glimpse behind the curtains of Camelot.
An investigation convened after the death of JFK — the Warren Commission — found that the assassin acted alone and there was no conspiracy. Many people believe those results themselves are a cover-up and that the public still hasn’t been told the whole story. Director Oliver Stone is one of those people, and this movie is his take on the events. The story centers on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (who wrote one of the books that inspired Stone) and a case he filed alleging that there was a partner in the murder. JFK was picked apart by the media even when it was just a script, but the completed project is masterfully done and a joy to watch.
This film turns the spotlight to the beloved first lady and takes viewers through the days following the assassination, as Jackie balanced her public responsibilities with protecting and helping her children alongside dealing with her own grief. Though it was slow at the box office, the movie received rave reviews, particularly for Natalie Portman’s restrained portrayal of the widow.
Edith Ewing Bouvier and Edith Bouvier Beale were mother and daughter and the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy. For most of their lives, they lived in high society among the wealthy and politically influential. In Bouvier’s later years, however, she withdrew to her Hamptons estate, Grey Gardens, and persuaded her daughter to come live with her. The two grew increasingly eccentric and allowed the house to fall into disrepair, essentially living in squalor. Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange portray the pair beautifully, showing their love, pain and joie de vivre despite their circumstances.
This eight-episode miniseries is one of the most comprehensive looks at the large family, beginning with Joseph Kennedy’s post as a U.S. ambassador through grooming his sons for political leadership and on to the years marked by tragedy. Controversial and accused of historical inaccuracies, the series includes allegations of mafia ties, affairs and drug use.
One of the best movies focused on the Kennedy presidency showcases the tension and danger of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the first real nuclear threat to America. Kevin Coster stars as a political consultant with Bruce Greenwood as JFK and Steven Culp as Robert Kennedy, who was then attorney general. It’s a thrilling look inside a national crisis as well the intimately supportive relationship between two brothers.
Bobby Kennedy for President
This Netflix docuseries doesn’t release until April 27, but it promises to be a fascinating look at the promise that was never fulfilled. After the assassination of JFK, the country rallied to the idea of another Kennedy in the White House. Bobby’s campaign, which ended with his assassination, took place 50 years ago, and this series chronicles his work as a senator, attorney general and civil rights leader.
This historical drama takes the events of JFK’s assassination and puts the focus on the people surrounding him. Parkland Hospital was where the action moved as soon as the shooting occurred. It became the staging ground for police, doctors and staff, who were suddenly under the most intense scrutiny of their lives.