Ken Burns’s latest epic documentary takes on the life and times of Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin Roosevelt as well as various other Oyster Bay and Hyde Park Roosevelts. At 14-hours long (7 x 2 hour episodes) it is one of his longest films. With 9 million viewers on its first screening (second only to football) it is one of his most popular. But where does it leave the legacy of TR and FDR?
Burns is squarely of the mind that TR’s progressivism informed and inspired FDR’s liberal assault on poverty, that the New Deal expanded on the Square Deal. In terms of foreign policy, TR’s punchy but cautious nationalism, Burns asserts, played an equally inspirational role. The scope of the Roosevelts is new to documentary, but the argument that FDR emulated his older cousin is not. David Grubin in 1994 produced and directed “TR” for PBS’s American Experience with the same perspective. Michael Wolraich disagrees with this portrait. So which is it? Is FDR the progeny or a trailblazer? Is TR the trailblazer or misinterpreted?
You be the judge: Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts comes to UK TV on October 19 (PBS America). It has already aired in the US and can be watched online.