Directed By: Rory Kennedy
Starring: Ethel Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Ralph Bunche
Tag line: "A private look inside a highly public life"
Trivia: While making the festival tour, this film won four separate Audience Awards
Ethel is a documentary on the life of Ethel Kennedy, wife of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated during his campaign for the presidency in 1968. Yet even though the movie, which was directed by Ethel’s youngest daughter Rory, takes us behind the scenes of one of America’s most powerful families, it is, at its heart, a very personal film about a woman whose tenacity and perseverance guided her young family through some extremely difficult times.
While Ethel does address a number of key moments in U.S. history, including the 1960 Presidential election, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights movement, and the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy, it’s not a documentary about America in the turbulent ‘60s. It is the story of Ethel Kennedy, told in her own words (with the help of her surviving children, who occasionally chime in). We hear of how she and Robert Kennedy first met at a ski resort, and that, prior to their getting together, he had dated her sister, Patricia, for two years (a time Ethel now refers to as “a dark period”). Interspersed with footage of her hitting the campaign trail in 1960 and an appearance on the Jack Paar show are stories told by her children, who say Ethel Kennedy was both a devoted mother to all 11 of her offspring (as daughter Rory points out, Ethel was pregnant a grand total of 99 months, which amounts to just over 8 years of her life) and a bit out of her element when working around the house (one of her sons flat-out calls her a “bad cook”).
No movie about the Kennedy clan would be complete if it didn’t touch on the family’s political history, yet director Rory Kennedy does a fine job balancing Ethel’s public image with that of the person she knows simply as “mom”.