This six-hour miniseries, based on C. David Heymann’s 1989 best-seller, takes a very pro-Jackie look at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It offers Jackie as victim, Jackie as hero, Jackie as survivor. She is portrayed here by Roma Downey, a virtual unknown who does a first-rate job of reproducing Onassis’ quiet confidence and breathy voice. (Physically, however, Downey comes closer to resembling another member of the Kennedy clan, Maria Shriver.)
Woman follows Onassis from childhood up through the 1975 death of her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, played here by Joss Ackland (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) as a lovable vulgarian who shouts things like ”More champagne! I want us to have the most amusing time!” But it is, of course, Jackie’s years as the wife of John Kennedy that hold the most interest, and in Roger O. Hirson’s adaptation of Heymann’s book, the Kennedys are here portrayed as a family of ruthless power brokers led by JFK’s father, Joe (Josef Sommer). But no matter what kind of spin this familiar material receives, it is still too familiar to us — from real life and from the hundreds of retellings in every medium — to be very compelling.
Even after all the talk in recent years that television audiences are bored by long miniseries, NBC has made the most obvious mistake: This drama is, at the very least, one night too long. Not only that, the series’ weakest segment is the initial two hours, which follow a young Jackie riding horses and submitting to the iron will of her mother, Janet Lee Bouvier, played by a terrifically cranky Wendy Hughes (My Brilliant Career). If curious viewers are bored by the first night’s installment of A Woman Named Jackie, will they evince a television critic’s determination and watch the whole thing? I wouldn’t if I were you. C