“How much does our DNA affect our sense of belonging?” For Viviane Winthrop, the subject of The Last of the Winthrops, this question proves more difficult to untangle as an Ancestry DNA test turns her world upside down. This heartwarming documentary, directed by Adam K. Singer and Viviane Winthrop, seeks to illustrate the durability of familial bonds.
For 49 years, Viviane Winthrop has gone through life thinking, genetically, she was part of the Winthrop legacy — a legacy woven by politics as most of her ancestors were revered governors and senators. Winthrop believed she was the biological daughter of Reginald Winthrop, a Shakespearean actor who deviated from politics but still preserved the name. But Winthrop learns that the deceased man wasn’t her biological father, prompting her to re-evaluate her past and identity.
Is a DNA test the defining characteristic that determines the legitimacy of a family? No, of course not. Reginald Winthrop still raised Viviane Winthrop as his own. She recognizes that, despite not being genetically linked, he was her father. Still, Winthrop explains how she made decisions based on the family name, which is understandable considering how much her ancestors had accomplished as politicians. The burden falls on her to preserve the Winthrop legacy, but the doc powerfully shows that she doesn’t need to achieve or contribute something groundbreaking to honor the Winthrops.
“…Winthrop learns that the deceased man wasn’t her biological father, prompting her to re-evaluate her past and identity.”
The Last of the Winthrops follows Viviane Winthrop as she travels across countries to learn more about her ancestors. She visits castles and mansions with ties to her family. One of the castles she tours is Count Joseph De Gontaut-Biron’s Navailles Chateau. The first half is structured as a gorgeous, exhilarated look at the Winthrop ancestry. Through wide shots of historic sites and rolling landscapes, the pleasantly refined, tranquil atmosphere engulfs you in a rich, engrossing collage of history. From the main subject’s perspective, this real-life journey to learn more about the Winthrop bloodline resembles a fairytale. Her amazement is absolutely endearing to behold.
Then, one day, Winthrop receives an email from somebody who claims to be her half-sister, Liliane Perez-Weinstein. She and Winthrop share the same father: Armand Perez. This life-altering revelation overwhelms her, but she doesn’t let it change how much love she has for her father and mother. But, at the same time, Winthrop’s mother kept the truth from her. Did she have the right to conceal the truth?
Winthrop and Singer don’t probe too aggressively to extract the reasoning behind her mother’s decision, nor do they try to undervalue the family connections detached from genetics. The second half is naturally more distressing in that this revelation puts things in a new, emotionally challenging perspective. However, the filmmakers do without unproductively harping on the past, instead looking to the future with an unanticipated hopefulness.
The Last of the Winthrops dissects the layers of familial connection and parental responsibility. To express the past and how it bleeds into the present, the filmmakers frequently incorporate private recordings, photographs, and archival footage to nurture the emotion and impart some robust context behind Wintrhop’s state of mind, both before and after the revelation. It is the loved ones in our lives who help us become who we are. Even if they are no longer with us, their influence is abiding. Singer and Winthrop’s documentary is tender, emotional, and unwavering in its ability to underline the true nature of family.
For screening information, visit the official website for The Last of the Winthrops.
"…tender, emotional, and unwavering..."