The new Kennedys miniseries, with Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as Jack and Jackie, is nearly here after months of high-pitched rhetoric about its accuracy. The already-notorious series was, of course, bought and dumped by the History Channel, then rejected all over town and finally picked up by Reelz (at least it gets that channel in the news).
All those overwrought arguments would lead you to think there was something unusual about a series that dramatized Kennedy gossip and looked at the dark side of the family’s story. Not at all! The world – and Netflix – is filled with the ghosts of Kennedy movies past, some with surprising stars, most of them hilariously bad and far from the facts.
I’m not saying you should actually watch these movies, but the casting is fascinating. Take a look at some of the earlier Kennedys on screen.
PATRICK DEMPSEY AS THE YOUNG CAD AND WAR HERO
Before he was so perfectly cast as McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy, Dempsey was entirely miscast as the pre-political Kennedy in the 1993 miniseries with the self-explanatory title: JFK: Reckless Youth. The series is less harsh on Kennedy than the Nigel Hamilton biography it was based on, but watching Dempsey try to bring the earnest, ambitious, high-spirited Kennedy to life, and hearing him massacre a Boston accent, is not fun.
MARTIN SHEEN IN HIS PRE-WEST WING PRESIDENCY
Before he got all presidential as the middle-aged Josiah Barlet on The West Wing, the young Martin Sheen got good some reviews and some presidential training in this 1983 miniseries, Kennedy, focused on his years in office.
Blair Brown had the Jackie bob.
JILL HENNESSY, OPPOSITE- WORLD JACKIE
The most hilarious of them all, the 2001 miniseries Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot cast husky-voiced Jill Hennessy as breathy-voiced Jackie and it’s downhill from there in this adaptation of J. RandyTaraborrelli’s gossipy book. Daniel Hugh Kelly is a mannequin-like JFK, with Lauren Holly as Ethel.
BRUCE GREENWOOD, THE SERIOUS GUY
The most respectable of the Kennedy films is not a biography, which may explain the difference. In Thirteen Days, Roger Donaldson’s fine 2000 film about the Cuban missile crisis, Bruce Greenwood doesn’t actually go for a JFK impersonation, which helps, too. Kevin Costner is the real star as adviser Kenny O’Donnell.
And here’s a look at the new series, which begins on Sunday, with Tom Wilkinson as Joe Kennedy.