Elisabeth Moss’ new movie is based on a terrifying true story

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Kayleigh Dray
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Elisabeth Moss is set to play Rosemary Kennedy, the elder sister of Senator Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, in an upcoming movie called A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy.

Elisabeth Moss has picked up countless awards for her role as June/Offred, the titular character of the phenomenally successful dystopic drama, The Handmaid’s Tale – a story made all the more terrifying owing to the fact it is, as has recently been confirmed, based on real-life events.

Now, though, the talented actress is set to bring the tragic life of Rosemary Kennedy, who was born with intellectual disabilities as a result of not receiving enough oxygen to brain during birth, to the silver screen.

The elder sister of Senator Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, Rosemary was famously “affectionate, dutiful and always eager to please her father” – but prone to temper tantrums.

Her father, Joe, was keen to make Rosemary “more docile”, and eventually scheduled her for a lobotomy at the age of 23.

However, the “catastrophic” surgery was almost “completely botched” and “left her with the mental capacity of a toddler”, according to People.

After housing her in a psychiatric facility in upstate New York for seven years, Joe ordered his daughter sent to Saint Coletta (a Catholic facility for the mentally disabled) and never saw her again.

She lived there until her death in 2005. Now, after years being hidden away from the public eye, Moss will finally bring Rosemary’s tragic story to life on the silver screen – and, in doing so, explore the dark side of mental health and recent psychiatry.

Kennedy family portrait; Rose, Edward, Rosemary, Joseph JR, Joseph, Eurice, Jean, John, Patricia, Robert and Kathleen, U.S.

Rosemary was by far the only person whose life was ruined by a lobotomy: beginning in the 1930s, the surgical procedures – which aimed to sever the nerve fibres connecting the frontal lobe of the brain and the thalamus – were considered a new and viable treatment for individuals suffering from mental illness. 

This was originally accomplished by drilling into a patients head, and later advanced to an easier method of inserting a steel rod (somewhat resembling an ice-pick) under the eyelid and into the brain.

Despite the brutality of the treatment – and the high risk of increased damage or fatality – the consent of the patient was not required. And, in the years 1936 through to 1952, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the USA alone.

It is worth noting that the majority of patients who received this treatment were women. 

As reported by Variety, the aptly-titled A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy is “based on [Rosemary’s] personal letters illustrating her wish to connect with her family and how her story became a catalyst for change and left behind a legacy for generation to follow.”

“We are thrilled to be bringing this poignant and true story to life based on one of the hidden gems of the Kennedy family, with a masterful filmmaker in Ritesh Batra, the brilliant Elisabeth Moss, and a beautifully crafted screenplay by Nick Yarborough,” said producers Jason Michael Berman and Kevin Turen.

“The movies about the Kennedy family are deservedly stormy affairs, but here’s a story about the storms within all of us,” added Batra.

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.