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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 Greg King
3 stars out of 4

The tortured life of gifted but flawed musicians has provided some rich material for film makers over the years. Former documentary director Anand Tucker's stylish and touching film depicting the life of tragically doomed world renowned cellist Jacqueline Du Pre is nearer to the moving realism of Scott Hicks' brilliant Shine than it is to the excesses of Ken Russell's tasteless and exuberant biopics (Mahler, The Music Lovers, etc).

Hilary And Jackie looks at the complex relationship between Jacqueline, who eventually succumbed to multiple sclerosis, and her older sister Hilary, an acclaimed flautist whose career never really took off to the same extent. This earnest film is a telling exploration of sibling rivalry, the sense of competition between artists, the weight of living up to expectations, and the toll that it inevitably takes.

As youngsters, the two girls were driven to succeed by their pushy mother (Celia Imrie). Hilary was the early achiever in the family, but when Jackie's prowess with the cello thrust her into the limelight their respective fortunes and careers took very different paths. Hilary (Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths) eventually married and settled down in a remote farmhouse to raise a family, while Jackie (played by Emily Watson, from Breaking The Waves, etc) embarked on a mammoth European tour that took a huge physical and emotional toll.

Drawing largely upon Hilary Du Pre's own memoir about her sister, British writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Butterfly Kiss, etc) brings the characters to life in an intelligent and detailed script that avoids the usual clichés of the biopic. The narrative traces the different fortunes of the two sisters, and some key emotional events are seen from two perspectives. Hilary And Jackie spans some thirty years, moving from the post war austerity of 1950's England through to the 1980's, although Tucker doesn't overload the film with conscious period references or tiresome details. Tucker (best known for The Vampire's Life, his documentary about author Anne Rice) makes his feature debut with Hilary And Jackie, and he brings a sense of gritty realism to the material. David Johnson's camera constantly prowls around the stage, bringing life and a sense of energy to otherwise static scenes. Tucker draws a pair of superb performances from his two actresses. Griffiths delivers a more restrained performance, but she captures the sense of frustration and failure experience by Hilary, who feels slighted that she is often overlooked and remains in the shadow of her sister's achievements. Watson has the meatier role as the sexually precocious, selfish and intense Jackie. She has to deal with depression and debilitating illness, and she delivers a powerful and draining performance that elicits begrudging sympathy for this doomed figure. Both should have good reason to feel a little miffed that they were beaten at the Oscars by a couple of lightweight performances from Shakespeare In Love.

James Frain (recently seen in Elizabeth, etc) delivers a solid performance as Daniel Barenboim, the Argentinian pianist who married Jackie.

Copyright © 1998 Greg King

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