Review: A moving portrait of ‘Ethel’


It may not be the most trenchant documentary, but “Ethel,” Rory Kennedy’s otherwise superb tribute to her mother and, in large part, her father, Robert F. Kennedy, is a moving, highly enjoyable, thoroughly absorbing portrait.

Booked for a quick theatrical run before its upcoming HBO premiere, the film chronicles the life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy from her seemingly charmed childhood as the puckish daughter of a successful Chicago businessman to her 1950 marriage to RFK and her role, following her husband’s 1968 assassination, as a devoted, competitive, at times free-spirited matriarch and torchbearer for RFK’s famed social consciousness.

It’s a great American story filled with pivotal 1950s and ‘60s-era history and a raft of iconic political figures.


Rory Kennedy, an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer-director (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”) and the youngest of Ethel and Robert’s 11 children (she was born six months after her father’s death), sits down for a rare, warmly compelling interview with her 83-year-old mom as well as evocative chats with seven of the filmmaker’s siblings: Kathleen, Joe, Bobby, Courtney, Kerry, Chris and Max.

They’re all deftly combined with a treasure trove of home movie clips, personal photographs and stirring archival footage.

Although decidedly warts-free, “Ethel” proves a timely reminder of the legacy of perhaps America’s most captivating political family as well as what, under different circumstances, might have been.


“Ethel.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.