Elisabeth Moss is Set to Play a Kennedy

This will mark the first time Rosemary Kennedy's story will be told on the big screen.

China Girl Elisabeth Moss

This will mark the first time Rosemary Kennedy’s story will be told on the big screen.

Elisabeth Moss has made a name for herself tackling some of TV’s most intensely beloved characters in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale. Whether Peggy Olson or Offred comes to mind, the actress has undoubtedly solidified her status as a cultural icon and only continues to make her mark on Hollywood as her star grows.

Between booking intriguing projects, starring in and winning a plethora of awards for The Handmaid’s Tale, and headlining in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, 2017 couldn’t have gone better for Moss. As her 2018 also shapes up to be equally fantastic, Variety announced last week that she is about to embark on another huge on-screen journey playing Rosemary Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s older sister. The film, titled A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy, will be based on a Black List spec script by Nick Yarborough and will be directed by Ritesh Batra (Our Souls at Night).

Kennedy grew up with learning difficulties and was thus kept from the public eye for most of her life given her father’s commitment to the family’s image. She was eventually institutionalized after a failed lobotomy was performed in order to supposedly suppress her more rebellious tendencies and violent outbursts. It’s a story filled with anger and indignation, more so on her behalf than any other Kennedy. Yarborough’s script is based on personal letters from Kennedy that expressed her desire for a bond with her family.

Of the film, Batra commented:

“The movies about the Kennedy family are deservedly stormy affairs, but here’s a story about the storms within all of us.”

That couldn’t be truer. There is definitely no shortage of Kennedy biopics. As far as American political families go, the Kennedys remain a huge talking point on screen as there always seems to be a chase to humanize and relate to different aspects of the family. At the moment, several Kennedy-related biopics are either in development or about to be released. Almost predictably, many of these projects are decidedly male-centric. Jason Clarke will play Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, a film detailing the infamous accident that derailed any chance of the younger Kennedy brother running for President. Last year, Ansel Elgort signed on to play a young JFK during his time as a Navy captain in a film called Mayday 109. As of September 2017, Hulu has an untitled Robert F. Kennedy limited series in the works, and they hope to nab Chris Pine to star.

But no recent Kennedy movie or series has really captured my mind the way Pablo Larraín’s emphatic Jackie did, which importantly portrays Kennedy’s assassination from the viewpoint of his wife, Jacqueline. What really stands out about Jackie is a sense of lyricism that’s paired with the emotional turmoil that Jacqueline, played by an ephemeral Natalie Portman, was going through. Despite following a chronology of events that play out as a widow grieves her husband in the public eye, Larraín didn’t just tell the story from a woman’s perspective either. Jackie almost plays like a re-mythologizing of who Jacqueline Kennedy was by showing a woman with more control over her image than one would have realized.

It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to wish the same of A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy. I’m a Batra fan, but he and Larraín make movies that are just very different experiences. A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy will also have a whole other protagonist with a range of struggles that Jackie didn’t have to address. Nevertheless, there is inherent value in giving Rosemary a voice when she had so often been silenced. As Jackie demonstrates, there’s no need to treat A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy as a straightforward, traditional biopic for the story to be meaningful in re-envisioning who she was. In fact, films like these may even be more powerful when their structure is instead distinctly flexible depending on each protagonist’s point of view.

There’s no doubt that Moss is a good choice to play Rosemary Kennedy, in terms of both her track record in championing interesting roles for women onscreen and her actual capacity as an actress. The role is an important one too, and one of the more intriguing Kennedy offerings out there. Now the film just has to live up to those expectations.

Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Curator of daily stuff and things here at Film School Rejects.