Cuddled up together under the covers in bed, the now grown sisters share
an another in a lifelong series of intimate, little chats. With a
flashlight for illumination and champagne for celebration, the close
siblings share in sister Jackie's musical triumph. The incredible
actress Emily Watson plays famous cellist, Jacqueline Du Pré, and Rachel
Griffiths plays her much less renowned flautist sister, Hilary Du Pré in
the stunning picture, HILARY AND JACKIE.
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and directed by Anand Tucker, the film
is based on the memoir by Hilary and her brother Piers. (Piers, played
by Rupert Penry-Jones, appears sporadically in the film but is
The movie is consciously structured like a musical piece. After a brief
introduction when the two sisters were young, we move into the body of
the movie. First we have their adult life told from Hilary's
perspective, and then the same events are chronicled from what might
have been Jackie's perspective. The story ends in a furious movement in
which Jackie is struck down with Multiple Sclerosis at the peak of her
career. A wonderfully inviting movie is transformed into an
astonishingly moving one in this fatal, last act.
As the movie opens, a grade-school-aged Hilary has the musical skills
that her younger sister Jackie envies. With hard work and natural
talent, Jackie soon eclipses her sister, who forever after is doomed to
live in her shadow, relegated to being known as Jacqueline Du Pré's
Both of the sisters suffer from what a musical teacher calls a "lack of
deportment" when playing. This physical enthusiasm will turn into one of
Jackie's trademarks and endear her to her fans. Watson, who is perfect
for the role in so many ways, takes to the cello with abandon as if she
were born with the instrument in her cradle. Griffiths is excellent too
in displaying, with her silent looks, the frustration of coping with a
strong willed and famous sister.
The movie bursts with luxurious concertos and rich sonatas, some shown
in concert but most played innocuously and melodiously in the film's
background. (This isn't a concert movie. All of the stage performances
combined account for little more than a quarter of an hour of the film's
Jackie was a controversial figure. A product of the 1960's free love
era, Jackie questions why marriage is necessary, given the advent of
widely available contraceptives. Her most controversial stand comes from
a request she makes to her sister after Hilary gets married. Since they
agreed to always share everything, she'd like Hilary to let her share in
conjugal relations -- she wants to have sex with Hilary's husband,
Kiffer Finzi (David Morrissey). And we're not talking about a one-night
The story argues convincingly that its two views of Jackie (one
narcissistic and uncaring and the other lost and depressed but
unfailingly loving) are equally valid. The incident of the dirty laundry
best illustrates this paradox. While off on one of her long, foreign
tours, Jackie finally communicates with her family by sending them a
package from Moscow. When they open it, there is no card or letter
inside, only her dirty laundry. This seemingly obvious act of cruelty
takes on a different meaning when we finally get Jackie's explanation.
Jackie does eventually marry, choosing the Leonardo DiCaprio of the
music world of the time, the celebrated conductor Daniel Barenboim
(James Frain). The television news reports describe them as "the Arthur
and Guenevere of the musical Camelot."
As Jackie's shooting star goes straight up, Hilary and her husband head
for a remote, old farm to raise kids and chickens.
Meanwhile, back at star central, Jackie wishes she had a simple life
like her sister. "Don't you wish sometimes that you couldn't play,"
Jackie presciently asks her husband. "That you could just be ordinary."
Barenboim loves the adulation and has trouble understanding the needs of
his conflicted wife. (Poor Jackie gets so upset that at one point, while
alone in a hotel room, she even mistreats her cello, leaving it out on
the snowy balcony.)
Watson, who specializes in performances of complex and confounded
characters, as she did in her Oscar nominated role in BREAKING THE
WAVES, delivers another Oscar characterization as Jacqueline Du Pré.
Mesmerizing throughout, her work will reduce you to repeated tears by
Jackie's life is perfectly bracketed in the movie. Her first and last
public performance with an orchestra has her playing the same
instrument, and it's not the cello. Brilliantly staged and marvelously
acted, HILARY AND JACKIE is a triumph that deserves the same roaring
applause from motion picture audiences that Jackie received from her
HILARY AND JACKIE runs 2:01. It is rated R for profanity and sexuality
and would be fine for teenagers.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes