Directed by Pablo Lerrain
Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Released on 20th January 2017
The assassination of President John F Kennedy on the 22nd of November 1963 in Dallas, Texas, was one of the most shocking events of the 20th century.
On a smaller level, UK television on that day (there was only BBC and ITV) abandoned their schedules and replaced them with concert music. One small girl growing up in Birmingham couldn’t understand why her favourite show wasn’t on. She’d been looking forward to it all week. That was me and it’s one of my abiding memories of that day. Just like that blurred home footage filmed in Dallas by Abaham Zapruder, which is probably everybody’s image of those events, whether they were alive at the time or not.
In Jackie, Pablo Lerrain’s takes us through that momentous day as seen through the eyes of the person agonisingly closest to what happened, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman). It’s partly as told to a journalist shortly after the funeral, partly through a re-creation of her famous TV documentary touring the White House and partly through her own memories. So, despite the implication of the title, this isn’t a bio-pic in the conventional sense, but a revealing snapshot of a deeply complex woman during a time of extreme stress. And one that reveals a huge amount about her.
Long before that gun was fired in Dallas, she’s a solitary figure. As Air Force One lands in Dallas, there’s only lifelong friend and personal secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) on hand to help her. After the assassination, that isolation is unbearably acute. Only brother in law Bobby gives her a hug: the rest of the Kennedy clan seems to have closed ranks against her. And, when she walks through the grandiose rooms of The White House, she’s as alone as ever, tiny and fragile, surrounded by the opulence she’s created.
Except now she doesn’t know who she is. She’s no longer First Lady. The title transferred to Lady Bird Johnson as soon as the Vice President took the oath, with Jackie by his side. Her husband is gone and the same applies to his powerful family. Her two children are all she has left and, as they all have to leave The White House immediately, all their belongings are in storage. On hold. Just like her life.
A portrait of shocking, sudden loss and the grief that follows, it’s underlined by some stunning re-constructions – the assassination itself is devastating and the TV documentary is brought back to life in grainy black and white. And the attention to detail is microscopic, whether it’s the elaborately back-combed hair and flicked up eye-liner or the blood stains on Jackie’s iconic pink suit. But it’s paints an insightful picture of celebrity, of life lived in front of the camera and the difference between public and private lives.
Portman gives the performance of a lifetime, sometimes brittle, sometimes defensive and sometimes falling apart, but always in private. Such as when she wipes the blood spatters from her face. But in front of any audience, public or private, she keeps herself together, with only her eyes betraying what’s going on underneath. When she wanders round The White House on the night of the assassination, totally alone as usual and trying out all of her designer dresses to the tune of Camelot, it’s heart breaking to watch. Not only has her husband gone, but that idyllic dream has gone with him.
The film’s contemporary resonances are obvious, given its release date in the UK. But that takes nothing away from Jackie’s emotional power and stunning visuals. And, of course, there’s Portman herself. When Oscar night arrives next month, there’s every chance she’ll be First Lady all over again.
Jackie is released today, Friday, 20 January 2017 and is also reviewed on the latest edition of Talking Pictures.