JFK: The Last Speech event - June 2019


On the fine summer evening of 22 June 2019, at the Fitzwilliams Centre, the Society was delighted to host the screening of ‘JFK: The Last Speech’, a new film from America which told the remarkable story of the friendship between John F Kennedy, 35th US President, and Robert Frost, America’s great poet.

Neil Bicknell, the film’s Executive Producer, had contacted the Society to show the film here as part of his UK tour, as our town has a special and unique connection with Robert Frost. We happily agreed and were privileged to follow on from screenings in Dublin and at the American Embassy in London.

Alison Wheelhouse, Chair of the Society, opened the evening by welcoming a large audience, which included Beaconsfield’s Mayor, Alex Dunlop, and Dick Smith, our Town Crier, in full regalia. Alison then introduced Neil Bicknell and his wife Judy, and I explained the background to the event.

Robert Frost came to Beaconsfield in 1912 with his wife and four children and rented a cottage at 26 Reynolds Road. ‘The Bungalow’ as it was called no longer exists but a plaque on the front garden wall marks where it stood. Frost was living here when he made his literary breakthrough with the publication of his first two volumes of poetry. This was before he was recognized in America. In 2012 the Beaconsfield Society had commemorated the centenary of Frost’s arrival, and our celebrations attracted the attention of American enthusiasts – which led in turn to this event.

The one-hour biopic was made by the alumni of Amhurst College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts where President Kennedy had given an historic speech to the students, and where Frost had taught. The great poet had recently died and Kennedy’s speech was in part a eulogy to his old friend. The film described the close and complex relationship between the two men, sadly soured in the turmoil of the Cold War. But it was also about how the students responded to the President’s rousing call to use their education for the good of society. Just four weeks later, in November 1963, JFK himself was dead, assassinated.

Neil Bicknell and his wife Judy are both ardent admirers of Frost’s work, and before the screening Neil had ask us to think about the relevance of art, poetry and a liberal education in keeping a check on power. This led to a lively post–film discussion, with many questions from the audience.

At the end of the evening, everyone had a chance to relax and continue the conversation over refreshments. In a full and positive review of the film by Matt Batsman of Hiya Bucks magazine he wrote: “a big thank you to the Beaconsfield Society for the invitation to such a fascinating and thought-provoking evening.”

Kari Dorme (Committee member and event organiser)

             Neil Bicknell and Kari Dorme

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