Thursday, October 18, 2012

TONIGHT: HBO salutes Kennedy icon Ethel

It’s a little known fact, but two Canadian mountain tops play pivotal roles in the story of a famous American family: the Kennedys.
It’s all revealed in Ethel, a highly personal look at political matriarch Ethel Kennedy, wife of crusading senator, presidential candidate and ‘60s icon Robert F. Kennedy. The documentary premieres Thursday night at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
I had the opportunity to interview director Rory Kennedy last August in Los Angeles. She and her mother Ethel, 84, were featured earlier that day at HBO's TCA sessions. 
Rory was the youngest of Robert and Ethel's 11 children and was born six months after her father was assassinated. She told me her parents met at the Quebec ski resort Mt. Tremblant in 1945. The couple were on a ski holiday with their two extended families, the Kennedys and the Skakels. After a few false starts, a romance blossomed and the two were wed in 1950.
 Years later, in 1965, a sombre yet determined RFK made a pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Kennedy, a 4300m peak in The Yukon named after his murdered brother, President John F. Kennedy. It was at that time the highest peak in North America not yet scaled.
“My mother really feels like that was a turning point for him,” says Rory Kennedy of the pilgrimage. Kennedy came down off the mountain with new vigour and slowly emerged from the deep funk which gripped him in the months following his brother’s death.
The documentary features the Kennedy matriarch in her first extended interview in over 25 years, along with eight of her 11 children: Kathleen, Joe, Bobby, Courtney, Kerry, Chris, Max and filmmaker Rory. (Two children, David and Michael, have passed away.)
Rory has tackled tough subjects before, including HBO’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, but shied away from turning her cameras on her own family until nudged by HBO executive producer Sheila Nevins.
“This is not a film I would have done 20 years ago or 15 years ago when I was first getting started,” says Kennedy, 44. “I think I needed to feel that I had a certain amount of work behind me and confidence in my work that I could handle the subject matter.”
Viewers looking for any dirt on the Kennedys should seek out last year's History miniseries. Rory, as expected, sticks to the Camelot script.
For more on Ethel check out the feature I wrote for the October issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.
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