Until President John F. Kennedy put a stop to it, his mischievous sister-in-law Ethel wasn’t above toppling a visiting politico or two into the family swimming pool.
That’s as scandalous as it gets in Rory Kennedy’s affectionate, playful profile of her mother, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Billed as the first Kennedy film directed by a family member, HBO’s “Ethel” is endearing and warm-hearted, if ultimately too guarded to stand as the work of historical significance it might have been.
The youngest of Bobby and Ethel’s 11 children, Rory Kennedy was born six months after her father’s assassination in 1968. The Emmy Award-winning director (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”) interviews seven of her surviving siblings, as well as their press-shy mother.
“All this introspection,” Ethel, now 84, tells her daughter. “I hate it.” She chokes up only once, when asked about her husband’s assassination. “Talk about something else,” she says.
“Ethel” delights in the antics of the Kennedy kids -- sliding down White House banisters, gawking at FBI sharpshooters at target practice -- and turns appropriately somber with the inevitable tragedies.
Seamier fascinations go unmentioned, and there we see the mother in the daughter: “Ethel” talks about something else.
“Ethel” airs Oct. 18 on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
Alfred Hitchcock once sent little Melanie Griffith a macabre Christmas gift: A doll, made up to look like the child’s mother, Tippi Hedren, in a tiny coffin.
HBO’s “The Girl,” a behind-the-scenes drama about Hitchcock’s creepy sexual obsession with Hedren while filming “The Birds,” does not include the doll story.
That’s not the only missed opportunity that leaves us waiting for next month’s big-screen “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins.
Based on Donald Spoto’s book “Spellbound by Beauty” and directed by Julian Jarrold, “The Girl” gets the impersonations and ’60s vibe right. Toby Jones is as good as Hitchcock as he was as Truman Capote in “Infamous,” and Sienna Miller is lovely as his Grace Kelly substitute.
But the movie adds little to the familiar take on Hitchcock’s cruel, lascivious attempts to mold the inexperienced actress into his idea of perfection.
When Hedren rejects his repeated and vulgar sexual advances as wife Alma (Imelda Staunton) simply looks the other way, Hitchcock makes her life hell.
The harassment reaches a climax with stagehands tossing live gulls at the actress until she suffers a weeklong emotional collapse.
“The Girl” breezes past the post-“Birds” flop “Marnie” before suggesting that Hedren’s career was all but killed by the vengeful director.
Even with juice like that, “The Girl” isn’t nearly as involving as you’d expect. It’s thin stuff in a fat suit.
“The Girl” airs Oct. 20 on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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