Even for those of us who can’t remember what we were doing when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot, in my case on account of being only two years old at the time, the assassination still holds an almost hypnotic power.
Pablo Larrain’s film (the accomplished Chilean director’s first in the English language) attempts to exploit our never-ending fascination with the events of that fateful November day in Dallas in 1963 by approaching it from an unfamiliar angle.
What was the experience like for JFK’s wife, Jackie (superbly played by Natalie Portman)? Not just in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, his brains splattered all over her pink Chanel suit, but in that first week of sudden, stupefying widowhood as she tried to come to terms with her loss?
That Jackie should be released in the UK today, on the day President Trump is inaugurated and his wife Melania becomes First Lady, is surely happenstance rather than design
That Jackie should be released in the UK today, on the day President Trump is inaugurated and his wife Melania becomes First Lady, is surely happenstance rather than design. But it does rather raise the question of whether Mrs Trump will cast an enduring spell over us, like Mrs Kennedy did. We can probably assume not.
That said, Larrain and his screenwriter Noah Oppenheim are so captivated by the spell that at times they forget to imbue their drama with, well, drama.
Jackie arrives here trailing lots of rhapsodic five-star reviews, not to mention a growing clamour for Portman to get an Academy Award.
But I thought it a rather self-indulgent piece of film-making, and downright dreary in places, such as in Jackie’s endless consultations with her Irish priest (John Hurt in fine, frowning form) about the existence of God.
Jackie arrives here trailing lots of rhapsodic five-star reviews, not to mention a growing clamour for Portman to get an Academy Award
It doesn’t help, by the way, that Jackie speaks in a breathy, somewhat simpering whisper that belies her emotional froideur. I have no doubt that it’s an uncannily accurate vocal impersonation by Portman, but it is far more irritating than seductive.
A classy supporting cast includes Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s social secretary, and Richard E. Grant as her interior design consultant. But the film is framed by an interview Jackie gives to a Life magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) just a week after the assassination.
Already she is massaging the Kennedy image for posterity, chain-smoking but instructing him that his readers must not be told she has a cigarette habit. What does emerge powerfully is how strong and smart she is beneath the layers of vulnerability.
Pablo Larrain’s film attempts to exploit our never-ending fascination with the events of that fateful November day in Dallas in 1963
But she is much easier to admire than to like, and really that goes for the picture as a whole.
Still, it expertly captures that sense of a wider world in turmoil, with nobody quite knowing what would happen next, as in the wake of 9/11. Only very occasionally does it make the mistake of anticipating the future, as when the journalist assures her that ‘decades from now, people will remember your dignity’. That, I think, is a line meant for us, not her.
Like the woman herself, and like Portman, Jackie is lovely to look at. It has oodles of style and originality.
Larrain cleverly replicates a famous televised tour round the White House from 1961, and uses songs from the musical Camelot to underscore the Kennedy myth. But I emerged from the cinema more enervated than enlightened, and not at all sure whether the film had shed light on the strange mystique of Jackie Kennedy, or made it more unfathomable still.