Under the Radar

Capturing History Through the Roosevelts


Ken Burns' 14-hour documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate Portrait is in the midst of a 7-night run on PBS this week, but it's also available now on Blu-ray and DVD. The documentary covers over a century of American history, from Theodore Roosevelt's birth in 1858 to Eleanor Roosevelt's death in 1962. In between, Burns uses the lives of Teddy, Eleanor and FDR to touch on the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II.


Teddy and FDR may have served in different parties (Republican and Democrat, respectively) but they both promoted a progressive reform agenda through their Presidencies. Teddy's political career was fueled by his command of the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War and Franklin led our nation into the biggest conflict the world as ever known.


As always, Burns has engaged some first-rate voice talent: Paul Giamatti portrays Theodore, Meryl Streep reads Eleanor's parts and Edward Hermann gives voice to FDR, almost forty years since he first portrayed the President in the TV movie Eleanor and Franklin.


Most everyone grew up learning their American history cut in into separate eras, with little connection between what happened in the Civil War and how it might have impacted American attitudes over the next half-century until we entered the Great War. Even though he's focusing on one of the most influential families in American history here, what Burns has also done is create a film that builds a bridge between his excellent Civil War and World War II documentaries.

This is one of Ken Burns' best films. Whether it's the greater resources that success has allowed or just that his team has gotten better with practice, this is must viewing for anyone interested in military and American history.


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