The Reagans (2003)

Appropriately titled The Reagans, this miniseries is not so much a biopic of the 40th President of the United States as it is a portrayal of the relationship between Ronald Reagan and his wife, and to a lesser extent their relationship with their children. The only thing more befitting than the film’s title is the opening line of the song chosen to accompany its flashback… Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey.

 

Opening with the President facing impeachment over the Iran-Contra affair, the film quickly retreats to a more comfortable place and time – Hollywood circa 1949. In what may be seen as a template for the series' depiction of the couple, young starlet Nancy Davis conspires with director Mervyn LeRoy to arrange a date with the affable Ronald Reagan. But taking such an over-simplified view of their relationship runs the risk of ignoring the finer elements of this worthy biopic. While Nancy may not be easy to like, there’s no denying her deep affection for her husband. Frustratingly for all concerned, this is matched by her inability to convey a similar amount of love to her children.

Despite devoting the entire second half of the mini-series to Reagan’s presidency, it only pays cursory attention to his achievements and missteps. James Brolin manages to avoid caricature in his entertaining portrayal, suggesting a lovable goof who is easily led by those around him. Similarly, one imagines Nancy Reagan’s admirers would not be impressed with Judy Davis’s arch depiction of the former first lady.

Yet for all of its faults this film, like the President it depicts, can be difficult to dislike.

cast, James Brolin, Judy Davis as Ronald, Nancy Reagan,
James Brolin
James Brolin

as Ronald Reagan

Judy Davis
Judy Davis

as Nancy Reagan

Stewart Bick
Stewart Bick

as Lew Wasserman

John Koensgen
John Koensgen

as Mervyn Leroy

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Following a campaign led by conservative commentators who, based on leaked portions of the script, believed this mini-series painted an inaccurate picture of Ronald Reagan, CBS did not proceed with broadcasting this biopic. Instead it was shown on Showtime, where its possible audience reach was significantly less. Yet even this version was amended in the face of ongoing criticism, removing a scene in which Ronald Reagan responds to his wife’s pleas to address the AIDS issue with “'They that live in sin shall die in sin''. Though the filmmakers conceded they had no proof that Reagan ever explicitly said this, the president’s official biography does record him saying “Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

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Though biopic features a few behind the scene scenarios from East Side West Side, The Next Voice You Hear and Bedtime for Bonzo, the only recreations present are their son’s appearance on 'Saturday Night Live' and a commercial for General Electric.

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