It’s a name so iconic, you already know who the film is about. It’s only a question of how it’s put together. Even after the recent US election, I saw Michelle Obama’s name repeatedly used alongside Jackie Kennedy’s as one of the most elegant first ladies ever. And this film focuses tightly on the factors that contributed to the legend of Jackie.
It is still 1963 when Jackie (Natalie Portman) invites journalist, Theodore White (Billy Crudup) to her Massachusetts’ home, so the exposition is handled through flashbacks during this famous Life article interview. It was her first interview following the death of John F Kennedy. It was just weeks, so her grieving is raw.
It gives us an insight into the perspective of the first lady on JFK and the closest witness to the assassination. It also makes for uncomfortable viewing and some will react against it.
Because of this structure, we see the awkward Jackie – when she takes us on a televised tour of the White House which drew 80 million viewers; the angry Jackie – as she obsesses over funeral details – and the grieving one. But you are watching Jackie, not Natalie Portman playing her.
But it is Portman’s film. Peter Sarsgaard is solid as Robert F Kennedy, as is John Hurt as the priest, Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s secretary and Crudup as the interviewer. But they act as quality props for the main character, and director Pablo Larrain handles her lovingly; much more than officials did after assassination. The image of her standing by during the quick inauguration in her blood spattered clothing is haunting. Portman nails the depiction of her voice and mannerisms to the point I forgot who was playing her. That’s good acting.
I do question Larrain’s decision to take us into the full gruesome detail. Twice. The second time is entirely unnecessary at best. And the Bobby characterisation was a little lacking.
This is an intimate portrait of a grieving woman. It’s not a biopic or documentary into the Kennedys or Jackie herself. Yes, the context is of a world shattering assassination, but it works on both levels. If you want a purely factual level, get onto the History channel, and watch a documentary. I’m disappointed at how many American viewers and reviewers miss this point and allow their political bias to colour their views. This all shows me (alongside the debate in the wake of the plethora of 2016 celebrity deaths) we are still uncomfortable with death and grieving. I think it’s a sign of maturity, not weakness.
If you’re interested in history and can cope with a character study in grieving, delivered through excellent acting, then you will be engrossed. This is a damn fine performance, and one worthy of 4 grassy knolls.
Con’s Score: 4 grassy knolls
Con Nats – Talking Arts