Picks and Pans Review: The Irish in America: Long Journey Home
PBS (Mon.-Wed., Jan. 26-28, 9p.m. ET)
Early in the first of its six hours, this documentary epic (to be released Jan. 27 on home video) conjures up the image of the Irish storyteller, regaling the peasants huddled by the fire on a long cold night. Though surely more faithful to literal truth than those yarn spinners of old, The Irish in America carries on their tradition of leisurely but enthralling narrative.
Produced by Thomas Lennon (The Battle over Citizen Kane) and narrated by actor Michael Murphy (Manhattan), the film spans more than 200 years of the Irish-American experience while avoiding both the dryness of a historical survey and the superficiality of a Hibernian Who's Who. It tells some familiar stories in fascinating depth-Ireland's potato famine of the mid-19th century, New York Gov. Al Smith's failed 1928 bid to become America's first Catholic President-but excels particularly in following immigrants who did not tread the beaten path from the boat to the big city. Everyone knows the colorful Irish politicians of Boston; here we also meet the unsung Irish copper miners of Butte, Mont.
The film, made in collaboration with The Walt Disney Studios and Boston's WGBH, concludes by taking a realistic yet wistful look at what assimilation (epitomized by John F. Kennedy's capture of the White House) means to a group so long held together by "the mythic story of the Irish as underdogs." The saga ends with shots of St. Patrick's Day paraders melting into the general pedestrian population of New York City. The American Irish have arrived, all right, but they've left something behind.
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