Playing one of the most famous women of influence in modern times, American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 – 1994), acclaimed actor Natalie Portman reveals that as an actress, she is fearless.
What an outstanding singular performance she gives in the movie Jackie, directed by Pablo Larraí and written by Noah Oppenheim. This is an intensely affecting film, providing an intimate portrait of this extraordinary woman of influence desperately trying to hold herself together with the eyes of the whole world upon her.
Facing the excruciating probing of the spotlight that in constant close up exposes all her frailties as a human being, Jackie faces history down to a point we feel like rising to our feet and cheering, except that it wouldn’t seem appropriate in light of the terrible event this movie is about and the dreadful trauma and sense of loss she experienced. She earns our empathy.
Full of grief, and in the wake of a national tragedy where she has witnessed her husband have his head blasted half away while on a visit to Dallas in Texas, Jackie struggles just to keep going forward with his brother Robert Kennedy and her social secretary Nancy Tuckerman’s support.
John F Kennedy was not a man to shrink away from a challenge, and neither was his wife, Jackie.
Within hours of losing him she realises that if she is to honour his memory and help in the aftermath to begin to define his legacy, then she needs to draw on all her reserves of courage and strength as she mourns in the public gaze while trying to explain what had happened to their much loved father to her two small children.
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The film documents just that brief period around the Kennedy assassination, telling the story about both her public and private life in her role as First Lady of the United States. There are so many aspects to Jackie. and her character, and Natalie Portman nails them all.
She lifts her long widow’s veil so that we can be captivated by the many different faces of Jackie; the mother with her children in their nursery or as a tour guide for the American nation, guiding them around the White House in 1962, explaining the historical renovations to its fabric that she has made on television.
Then there is the Jackie looking gorgeous in red with pearls happily dancing with her husband Jack at a White House Ball, alongside the determined Jackie being stubborn with staff, or the feminine Jackie, putting on her make up and pillbox hat to match her pink Chanel suit, which ended up being splattered with blood the colour of the roses she was given on their arrival in Dallas on that ill-feted day.
Then there is the Jackie who doesn’t flinch in a theological debate with the head of the Catholic Church in Washington after the event that took her husband’s life as she questions her faith.
The steely strong Jackie insists on having an elaborate public funeral for him, walking eight blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue in high heels behind his coffin with bagpipes playing.
For many years after Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 aged 46, everyone remembered where they were on that day and at that moment, such was his popularity at home and the world wide admiration he had gained for his role as the leader of the western world.
This is a truly outstanding movie; the script is quite extraordinary, the acting very very fine indeed, including Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman the Social Secretary.
It covers that period of Jackie’s life from the moment she lost JFK, throughout the funeral planning and implementation, until that point she has to leave the White House with her two small children, having lost the man she loved so violently and her life as well, one she would have to later rebuild.
Criss-crossing back and forwards we briefly meet John F Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson an amazing likeness) who had been in political office since 1947, leading up to being sworn in as the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961.
From that day until his assassination in November 1963 the World War Two hero who suffered very poor health, dealt with major world events including The Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs Invasion, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and establishment of the Peace Corps to name a few.
Kennedy was a champion of the Civil Rights Movement.
He certainly inspired the Space Race… his words ringing down through history from his September 12, 1962 Moon speech… ‘We Choose to Go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things… not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Following the assassination at Dallas in 1963, Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis (née Bouvier), said to an interviewer from Life Magazine… “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot”, adding that “there’ll be great Presidents again, but there’ll never be another Camelot again… It will never be that way again”, she said.
Camelot is a mythical place, a walled kingdom where legend has it, in an early democratic style of government, knights gathered at a round table with King Arthur of Albion (England) to debate and decide the fate of the people who sheltered within the safety of its walls.
She was alluding to the Kennedy family being American royalty, by quoting the lines of the title song of the contemporary Broadway musical Camelot, which she and ‘Jack’ had both recently seen. The President was so mesmerized by it he played the soundtrack album every night before he went to bed.
The only difference was that the walls failed to protect them both, once they stepped outside. As Jackie says in the film, “I only married a Kennedy” and look what happened.
Billy Crudup plays the unsympathetic journalist to whom Jackie said the line that made her most famous. Its literary reference was deliberate, one of the greatest royal legends of history, the allusion to Camelot helped Jackie begin to weave a legend around John F Kennedy.
Well at least until years later when they learned about his weakness for other women beside his wife. Then they realised he had been human after all.
Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy gives an Academy Award Winning Performance if ever there was one, and Jackie has to be one of the greatest of the movies of the year to see.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
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