Must Watch TV: ‘The Roosevelts’ by Ken Burns on PBS
“There is no family that’s had more influence on other Americans than this family,” says Ken Burns, America’s most popular documentary filmmaker, in an interview with PBS.
The 100-year history of Teddy, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt is told in an epic, new 14-hour documentary that, in my humble opinion, should be watched by every family that cares about American history. It begins Sunday, Sept. 14 and runs for seven consecutive evenings.
These three relatives, from perhaps the most prominent political family in the 20th century, are all fascinating individuals who had a huge impact on our country. The series covers the family’s story from Theodore Roosevelt’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor Roosevelt’s death in 1962. It documents their lives and contributions, from the creation of our national parks, the development of the Panama Canal, the New Deal in the Great Depression, and America in World War II, to Eleanor’s efforts to fight for civil rights and human rights.
“The Roosevelts brings up extraordinary questions that we talk about today,” says Burns. “What is the role of government? What is the nature of leadership? How is character formed by adversity in life?”
The writer of the series, Geoffrey C. Ward, author of two books about FDR, adds, “It’s a family story – they are in different political parties, but otherwise they have the same kind of upbringing and same Rooseveltian view of the world – optimistic, enthusiastic, and boundless.”
Five years in the making, the producers did research at hundreds of libraries, museums, and private collections, gathering thousands of still images, hundreds of hours of moving pictures, and shot 20 hours of interviews with historians and those with first-person memories.
The voice of Eleanor Roosevelt is played by Meryl Streep. Paul Giamatti plays the voice of Teddy Roosevelt, and Edward Herrmann – who has won two Emmy Awards for portrayals of Franklin Roosevelt – will do the voice of FDR.
To learn more, the film’s companion website offers a behind-the-scenes preview about the making of the series, short video clips, a historical timeline, and postcards using images from the film that you can email.
I know I’ll be watching – hope you will, too!
If you’d like more suggestions for good family viewing about American history, take a look at our series, Great Movies for Teaching U.S. History.
Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.