When one thinks of American political dynasties, the names that immediately spring to mind are the more recent ones of Bush and Clinton – but the phenomenon is nothing new. Arguably, the first true, and in some way the most successful, American political dynasty was that of The Roosevelts.
That is the subject of a new seven part/fourteen hour documentary series from legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, which premieres on PBS America on Sunday October 19th at 8pm. The series has already finished airing on PBS in the United States, where it became a quick hit with the opening episode drawing an audience of more than 9 million viewers.
In keeping with the reputation of Ken Burns, the scale of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is grandiose – presenting an in depth account of the three main players within the family: Theodore Roosevelt, who served as President between 1901 and 1909; Franklin D. Roosevelt, who to this day remains the longest serving President in the history of the United States; and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s wife who later found a great level of fame with her remarkable works.
From the first hour, Ken Burns and his team brilliantly capture, against a backdrop of personal tragedy, what is perhaps the most unlikely of stories – Theodore Roosevelt’s rise from sick child to wealthy local politician, western rancher, NYPD Commissioner, hero in the Spanish-America War, Governor of New York and ultimately the Presidency.
While a good chunk of the series follows Teddy Roosevelt, it is the more familiar story of FDR and how he followed his cousin (in an almost like-for like manner) to the Presidency only to lead America out of the Great Depression an through the second world war that truly resonates. Then there’s the matter of FDR breaking with political convention to seek and win a third and fourth term in the White House (he was only months into his fourth term when he died in 1945).
In the final hour, it is Eleanor Roosevelt’s time to shine – with an exploration of her, at times, tragic life, her role in the FDR White House as a “steadying hand” for her husband, and what life held for her in the wake of his death – which included serving as a delegate to the United Nation and speaking out on numerous civil and human rights issues.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is another gem from Ken Burns which offers a hitherto unprecedented look at a truly unique family who, even in the most tragic of times, never shied away from the call of public service.
And while the story of the Roosevelts may be relatively well known in the US, this series is well worth the 14 hour investment for UK viewers. Even for the most devout “Americanophile”, this new series will offer hours of drama and shines new light on one of the few families who truly helped to shape modern America.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History premieres on PBS America (Sky 534/Virgin 243) on Sunday October 18th at 8pm.