Thursday, October 16, 2014
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Posted by JaneGS
I'm about half way through PBS's The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which is a 7-part, 14-hour Ken Burns film about Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I recorded the lot when it was broadcast last month and am watching roughly a part a week, in two settings per week, travel schedule permitting. It's fascinating and wonderfully done, as expected.
I read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II awhile ago, and Peter Collier's The Roosevelts: An American Saga, both of which I enjoyed a lot. Plus, last year I visited Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill property (the house is being renovated so was closed to the public) and FDR's Hyde Park home. I'm no where near an expert, but I find the Roosevelt family to be compelling and a portal to a better understanding of the early 20th century.
I like the Ken Burns style of documentary--the stills with voice-over narration of quotes and as we move into the age of film/video actual clips. Paul Giamatti does a reasonably good job as Teddy Roosevelt, and Edward Hermann does FDR really well, having played him for TV movies in the 1970s. Meryl Streep, however, is so Eleanor that it is almost spooky.
I also really like the experts who weigh in with perspective and analysis--Doris Kearns Goodwin is my favorite (so articulate and insightful), Geoffrey Ward is good (although he seems to be caught up emotionally in the story--he seemed on the verge of tears talking about FDR's pain post-polio), George Will is uniformly irritating and I tend to take his analysis with a grain of salt (looking for the hidden agenda, I confess), and Clay Jenkinson, David McCullough, and Jon Meacham are all good and credible.
I have to say, though, one of the main things that strikes me about the Roosevelts this time around is that despite their incredible fortitude, brilliant instincts, courage, and charisma, the three individuals profiled were remarkably bad and selfish parents. FDR, while he was battling back after polio, was absent from home for months at a time, seeing his children infrequently; Eleanor moved into her own stone cottage and talked a lot about the need for a "life of her own" and stopped trying to connect with her children, conceding the fight to FDR's mother, Sarah; and Theodore insisted that his sons live their lives modeled on his own. I find this maddening. I think the children of these giants paid the price of their parents' greatness.