Hilary and Jackie (15)

Directed by Anand Tucker
Starring Emily Watson, Rachel Griffith, David Morrisey, James Frain

I remember seeing a tv programme on Jaqueline Du Pre quite a while ago- probably not long after her death. I was immediately facinated by this pretty , animated cello player. I have always loved the mournful tones of the cello, and even on tv, DuPre conveyed such expression and feeling. Her tragic life and death further fuelled my interest.
Now we have this biopic of the great cellist Jaqueline Du Pre, that has caused a bit of a ruckus with the British music community for its less than sympathetic look at Du Pre's life. However, this film is based on the book by Hilary and her brother about their sister, and in many ways this does show. There is only their side of the story presented. At the same time, Jackie does not come across that badly, but as a complicated and demanding person, which makes her all the more interesting. The ever wonderful Emily Watson, Oscar nominated for her role, must have enjoyed having a nice meaty role to get her teeth into. The equally brilliant Rachel Griffith- one of my favourite actresses since Muriel's Wedding- has a much more thankless role. Hilary is a less interesting character and Griffith has a much harder job.
The film open with a pretentious scene featuring the young sisters as childen playing on a beach. This is that rare film that has really bad child actors! The two girls playing young Hilary and Jackie might be stage school sweeties with pushy mums but they were very unnatural actresses and did not get the film off to a good start. Celia Imrie and Charles Dance as Mr and Mrs DuPre are much better, and once Griffith and Watson take over, things are much better. However, once again I question the film maker- this time over choice of narrative style. First we see Hilary's story- skipping big chunks of Jaqueline's life and focussing on the less interesting sister. By the time we go back to see Jackie's version of things, it is clear where the film's sympathies lie. There is hardly anything about Jackie's great successes, instead we see her insecurities and vanity.
The most controversial section of the film is where Jackie, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, tells Hilary she wants to sleep with her husband. Ever loyal sister agrees as does husband Kiffer (Morrisey). Jackie's husband, celebrity conductor Daniel Barenboim comes across very badly. Unable to cope with her insecurity and mood swings, he is shown to be unfeeling and unfaithful. When Jackie becomes ill with Multiple Sclerosis, Daniel is shown to be backing away and leaving Jackie alone. The depiction of her illness is not too lengthy but once again is shown purely from Hilary's point of view. Even now, Jackie is portrayed as vain and surrounding herself with celebrity friends. Only Hilary can help calm her tortured body, racked by convulsions from her illness.
It is only a masterful performance by Emily Watson that saves Jackie from being a groteque figure, based on this version of her life. Watson shows all her affectation and quirks, yet manages to make this complex musical genius into a real and very sympathetic character, although not likeable very often. I do wonder how a true a portrait of her this was. I think it would have been fairer to have shown more of her true reason for fame- her wonderful cello playing. We see and hear very little of her performances, and after all, that is why people are seeing this film; because Du Pre was a great musician. That is hardly seen at all in this film. Having said that, I found it a facinating film. Flawed in a number of ways, but Emily Watson, Rachel Griffith and most of the cast are excellent, and while I am not sure how fair it is, the characters are intriguing. 7/10

January 1999

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