How the First Lady copes by Richard Jones


A look at Jackie (M):

JackieIN recent history there’s probably no better known and recorded death of a country’s leader than the 1963 assassination of US president John Kennedy.

Footage of Kennedy slumped in the back seat of his limousine after the shots from the Dallas book depository had hit him in the head were played over and over.

With his wife Jackie Kennedy, frantically trying to stem the flow of blood from his fatal head wound, right alongside him.

What Chilean director Pablo Larrain has done in this biopic is to set up the back-story with Jackie (Natalie Portman) sitting in a Massachusetts mansion being interviewed by a print media journalist (Billy Crudup).

It’s some time since the assassination, the state funeral and the installation of a new White House regime yet Jackie is insistent that her print-the-legend story is faithfully noted, minus any of the warts: her own quite heavy smoking habit included.

“I don’t smoke,” she tells the stony-faced writer as she stubs out her cigarette.

Portman is poised and articulate as Jackie Kennedy.

She’s shown in the days after the assassination and before the stately parade of his funeral procession as she wordlessly wanders around lonely White House corridors and cavernous empty rooms.

Peter Sarsgaard is quite believable as a stoic, albeit grimfaced, Bobby Kennedy offering support and comfort.

Also fine is Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s confidante and social secretary Nancy Tuckerman. Nancy adds much needed warmth as an abrasive incoming Lyndon Baines Johnson administration looms.

And Caspar Phillipson in a few tiny scenes looks uncannily like the real JFK.

The late John Hurt plays an ageing but solicitous Catholic priest as he and Jackie saunter through a wooded glade seeking some sense in a world suddenly turned upside down.

To add more drama to the shoot, Larrain and cinematographer Stephane Fontaine ensure their 16 mm camera is close to Portman right through the movie.

From the vanity mirror shots of Jackie before the assassination, as she carefully applies her makeup before stepping into the limousine, to the after-the-shooting shots – still in her soiled suit, as she washes off JFK’s blood and stares into an uncertain future – the camera is close to Portman throughout.

There are other memorable scenes, too.

The tense swearing-in of Johnson aboard the presidential Boeing is well handled.

And the ultimate disrobing by Jackie as she finally discards her bloodstained pink Chanel suit is especially poignant, made even more heart-rending as she peels off her soiled stockings.

Of course no film about Jackie and John Kennedy would be complete without the pageantry of the JFK funeral procession, complete with the riderless horse of the fallen commander-in-chief.

Larrain shows us how Jackie had to battle the boys-only club to convince all of them she should be allowed to walk openly in her husband’s funeral procession with foreign dignitaries (France’s Charles de Gaulle among them) trailing along behind.

Of course we know she got her way and the procession went ahead leading to the burial ceremony in Washington’s Arlington cemetery.

(We’ve stood gazing at the Kennedy graves and the eternal flame at Arlington. It was early one 2010 Sunday morning before the daily hordes of tourists descend. It’s mightily impressive.)

Natalie Portman turns in a marvellous performance as Jackie and rightfully was one of five nominations for the Best Actress Oscar at last month’s Academy Awards.

And for the film’s haunting musical accompaniment Mica Levi was nominated for the Best Original Score at the Oscars, as well.




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