One thing that has really been grinding my gears over the awards season this year is the fact that over half of the films that have been getting all the nods and the awards for 2016 haven’t in fact been released in the UK yet. Films such as ‘Jackie’, ‘La La Land’, ‘Moonlight’, and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ have all received endless praise and nominations, but here in the UK some are only just being released. So I’m ecstatic that I am now slowly getting to see these films as they release this month in the UK.
‘Jackie’ follows an account of the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, through the eyes of his wife, and First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman). The film is framed around Jackie’s interview with Theodore White of Life magazine, as she gives a very personal account of what happened after her husband’s assassination and the reasoning and thoughts behind her actions in the following days. Straight from the start of the interview, Jackie’s strong personality is clear as she takes control of the interview, making it clear what can and can’t be published. Her sharp and quick remarks and apparent cold demeanor are a far cry from the Jackie we see during the flashbacks, where we see a loving, caring and all-round smiley Jackie, with her husband by her side. As her life begins to spiral following his death, she struggles to keep control as everyone tries to dictate her actions, and as a new President is sworn in, she has to start thinking of a future outside of the White House for her and her children.
First and foremost, Natalie Portman truly deserves all the praise and nominations she is receiving. Her performance as the former First Lady is outstanding, and she really captures Jacqueline Kennedy’s mannerisms and style. Every single second she is on screen she has you in the palm of her hand. Even during the dialogue-less scenes, Portman’s expressive facial movements show Jackie’s heartbreak, her confidence, and self-consciousness so clearly, and sometimes you can really see her wrestling with her own thoughts and trying to put on a brave face for the cameras, or her two young children, despite how broken and beaten she may feel.
The supporting cast are also superb, I had to do a double-take when I saw Caspar Phillipson come onto the screen as his resemblance to John F. Kennedy is remarkable. Peter Sarsgaard was brilliant in the role of Bobby Kennedy, brother to John and close confidante of Jackie, following his brother’s death. John Hurt was also a nice surprise appearance, playing the role of a Priest that Jackie confides in the days after John’s death.
Pablo Larrain’s direction and Stephan Fontaine as the film’s cinematographer appears to be a successful pairing. Some scenes saw Portman recreate the famous tour of the White House that Jackie Kennedy did in 1962, which was televised as ‘A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy’. I watched this on YouTube the minute I got home from my screening and I couldn’t believe how perfectly it was shot for the film. Portman utterly captures Jackie’s voice, mannerisms, and her on-screen awkwardness during the tour, and Larrain even went as far as to copy the camera angles the original tour was filmed in which was a delightful authentic touch.
Accompanying the flawless direction and cinematography is Mica Levi’s intense score, which truly encapsulates the tone of the story at every turn. The score’s presence really does add an emotional gut-punch during some of Jackie’s lowest and loneliest parts of the film, but also reflects her strength and resilience during others. The stunning set and costume designs (which is totally deserving of the Oscar nomination) give the film such an authentic feel that when the scenes of the White House tour are black and white with the crackling picture and sound, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether it was real footage or not.
Jackie is without a doubt worth every second of your time to watch, it’s not just a film about Jackie Kennedy the wife in mourning, it’s a film about Jackie Kennedy the First Lady, wife, mother, and friend, who wants to ensure the American people remember who her husband was, what he stood for, and what strides he made as President but was unable to fulfil. Her actions following her husband’s assassination will have you questioning her motives, is she doing it for vanity? Or is she genuinely doing what she thinks is best under the unexpected and heartbreaking circumstances? It all becomes clear in the end, but witnessing how Jackie handled everything thrown her way made for superb viewing thanks to flawless casting, direction, cinematography and score.
Directed by: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt