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Hilary and Jackie

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Hilary and Jackie

Starring: Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths
Director: Anand Tucker
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genres: Drama, Music


*Also starring: James Frain, David Morrisey, Charles Dance, Celia Imrie, Rupert Penry-Jones, Bill Paterson, Nyree Dawn Porter, Vernon Dobtcheff



Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

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 essentially ignored.)

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 sister.

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 running time.)

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 fling.

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 the end.

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 musical ones.

HILARY AND JACKIE runs 2:01. It is rated R for profanity and sexuality and would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes

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