We went to see Jackie recently. We heard lots of good reviews though usually with the warning ‘it’s not exactly fun’ ‘ don’t expect to come out smiling’ ‘it’s a toughie’.
I’m old enough, just, to remember where I was when the news John Kennedy had been shot came through. At least I remember my parents talking about it and them having to explain what ‘assassination’ meant. I’ve lived with the conspiracy theorists, the historians discussing legacy and whether more was achieved by his death than if he’d remained alive as the flawed politician and human that he clearly was.
I knew Jackie married Aristotle Onassis later and more tragedy than is fair has battered the Kennedy clan.
But I knew bugger all about Jackie and her role in the events surrounding the death. The joy – and I use that word advisedly – in this film is it manages the difficult tightrope of covering the macro political issues with the intensity of the personal trauma that enveloped Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of the shooting.
It is graphic – the shooting is depicted – but for me it was the blood that she tried and failed to wipe from her hair and face before she flew back to Washington that had me wincing.
The narrative arc of this film is underpinned by an interview between Jackie and a journalist – a patent device, even if a true event, that helped the director jump around in time. That jarred in places as we were treated to Jackie’s philosophy, articulated at the outset, about how history treats its heroes. In one neat scene she asks the hearse driver and an accompanying woman (not sure what her role was) if they knew who two other presidents were, both of whom were assassinated – they didn’t – and then asked about Lincoln, who, of course, they both knew. It became Jackie’s sole goal to ensure, to the extent it was within her power, that Kennedy was in the Lincoln category, mimicking his funeral arrangements for instance. For her, at the outset, it was all about legacy.
All good films are about the journey and this is no exception. I’ve probably spoilt the plot enough and don’t intend to explain what her journey was but it involved another conversational device, this time with John Hurt (this film had an oddly visceral link with death, as Hurt died the day I saw the film) as a priest who counsels her before the final reburial of her dead children next to their father.
Natalie Portman is a talent; she holds this film, at times seemingly on the verge of madness. By way of contrast Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby is about as convincing as my golf swing. Jackie needs a foil but his performance feels like it, too, came off a roll of paper-thin tin.
And Thunderbirds? Simon Mayo, who reviews films on the radio with the excellent Mark Kermode, sowed a subversive idea in my head, that came to him as he watched Jackie. He said he realised that every time he saw Portman in that pink outfit he was convinced he was seeing a real life Lady Penelope. He was right; it is at times an uncanny comparison. Fortunately, I managed to move beyond the image and I hope you do too.
Finally thanks to Kermode I was made aware of the extraordinary score; I don’t know what the sliding device they used is called – it has some musical description – but it really does enhance the mood. Which isn’t always the case.
So, if you’re up for a bit of a serious one and can take a brain splatter after your supper, see this film. It may not make you think and I doubt it will stay with you for long but it’s a well crafted piece.
Oddly about two thirds into the film a couple in, I guess, their late sixties, shuffled along our row and took the only two empty seats in the auditorium. When the film ended some 30 minutes later a hushed argument ensued as we waited to leave. Let’s start with the woman.
‘We came to the wrong showing.’
‘No, it’s definitely this one. I don’t understand why they started early.’
‘Of course they didn’t start early. Don’t be a moron.’ Pause. ‘What do the tickets say?’
Shuffle. ‘Oh damn.’
‘What have you done.’
‘I thought it was a 9.15 start but it was 19.15…’
Best dialogue of the night, frankly.