Review

‘Hilary and Jackie’ is based on the biography of the master cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, who died at only 42 from multiple sclerosis. This book is called A Genius in the Family and is written by her sister Hilary and Piers Du Pre.

The film is told from both Hilary's point of view and from Jackie's, hence the title. Overall it's a very engaging, emotionally gripping film and that is very welcome in contemporary cinema, which often suffers from emotional anaemia.

The film opens with a scene of the two sisters as little girls, running on an empty beach, suddenly the elderly Jackie(Emily Watson) appears from out of nowhere and says to the young Jackie in a reassuring way: everything will be all right.

Than it follows in chronological order the route of two talented sisters,to musical glory. Hilary the flautist and Jackie the cellist, in the beginning not as successful as her sister.

Anand Tucker proofs himself a very good and perceptive actors director, he stimulates Emily Watson to an intensely strong and sensitive performance. Rachel Griffith(Hilary) is very impressive too, as the sister who lives in Jackie's shadow. And the supporting roles are very convincing too, especially the vigorous David Morrissey as Hilary's husband, Kifer and the more restraint James Frain as Jackie's spouse, the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The film is not so much a story, more a succession of important scenes from the sisters life.

Including THE SCENE, completely sensationalised and taken out of context by the toilet- press: after an argument with Daniel, Jackie goes straight to Jackie and Kifer who stay in their country-house.That night Jackie asks Hilary that she wants to sleep with Kifer. Not a typical everyday request, you will say, but when you see the despairing state Jackie is in,it is more a cry for affection, than a demand of an egotistical Monster, as suggested by certain journalists.

There are much more important and moving scenes, like the one in which the first signs of the incurable illness multiple sclerosis are appearing and she can't stand up anymore during a concert, so Daniel has to carry her to the dressing-room. Or the beautiful scene before her illness, when Jackie, Daniel behind the piano and some other musicians start playing classical music and spontaneously change in to jazz in an infectious way. It's a pity the film has not more of those scenes, wherein you really get a sense what it means to be such a great musician.

My main objection in a well-directed, strongly acted and emotionally mature film is,every moment Jackie plays her cello, the camera circles around her in endless tracking shots, which distracts from her playing.A musician wrapped up in her or his music is fascinating to watch and not just static imagery, as the filmmaker and cameraman undoubtedly have thought.

At the end of the film when Jackie is almost completely paralysed by her illness and her head starts to shake uncontrollable, Jackie tells her mother: when I make music everybody loves me, when I stop playing I am alone.

The most moving scene of the film is when Hilary takes the very ill Jackie in her arms on her bed and tells her a childhood memory, the heavily shaking Jackie listens and stops shaking for a moment.

A terribly touching scene.


 

The nature of genius is a phenomenal thing. The status of the brilliant lies somewhere outside the boundaries of everyday culture, and it is this inability to fit in with the expected that produces the kind of derangement associated with the world’s greatest. Those who have spoken with most insight in the annals of documented history (for can ‘Hilary and Jackie’ not be described as a modern historical document?), and in the works of art that were created to express the accompanying weltanschauung, also deranged fools? The Lears of this world are tinged with an element of madness, a personality larger than life and the ability to express truths eternal. It would seem that in order for truth, clarity, and superior contribution to world history to be achieved, one must be more a fool than a clear-headed empiricist. ‘Hilary and Jackie’ takes this template for the interpretation of life, and bridges the gap between fact and fiction, between the real and the false, between one person’s truth and another person’s myopic perspective. It is in the gray area between these opposing factions that the power of ‘Hilary and Jackie’ lies.

‘Hilary and Jackie’ was released a mere sixteen months after the publication of Hilary du Pre’s ‘A Genius in the Family, the candid story of the talented sister Jacqueline. The film begins traditionally, at the beginning of their life together, introducing the audience to the young and as-yet unblemished sisters. The young Hilary (played by a fresh-faced Keely Flanders) and Jackie (the English-rosy Auriol Evans) are united by the innocent bond that is sibling love, sharing secrets, childhood stories and aspirations as to what the future holds. At the start of the film Hilary, the eldest, is the musical star of the family, a talented flautist who wins competition after competition. Pushed by their somewhat overpowering mother, Jackie struggles to catch up with her sister, choosing the cello as her instrument of expression. Despite being dwarfed by an instrument that is almost the same size as her, Jackie slowly begins to overshadow her sister, stunning audiences with a passion in her playing that seems almost inappropriate for a child her age.

The film documents Hilary’s (played as an adult by Rachel Griffiths) slow acceptance of the brilliance of her sister, transferring her desire for international accolades to her life for the conductor Kiffer Finzi (David Morrissey). The contrast between the sisters is highlighted by the use of dichotomy and extremes. While Hilary channels her passion for self-expression into a marriage and the children that arrive soon afterwards, Jackie’s (brilliantly played by Emily Watson) soul and spirit are on display to the world of the international musician. Her version of the homely Kiffer is the tempestuous Argentine Daniel Barenboim, her child is her cello, her home the stage.


However, a life of public display can made for a jaded personality, and the second section (or act) of the film jumps away from the traditional story-telling narrative devices of the beginning of the film to Hilary’s more subjective stance. Physically worn out and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Jackie retreats to Hilary’s rustic family retreat, and it is at this point that the events that have instigated so much public outcry find expression. The urbanity, charisma and spirit of the early Jackie are transformed into a character more demanding and fiery.

Hilary’s powerful love for her sister is stretched to Biblical proportions when she gives into Jackie’s demands to sleep with her husband. She shared Kiffer with her sister for almost a year. It is this all giving and totally encompassing commitment to her sister that is most misunderstood, within the context of the film and the book from which it derives. It would be a mistake to assume that the film is a merely a vindication of Hilary’s actions in the face of an increasingly confused, deranged and predatory sister. For at the interface of the second and third segments of the film lie twenty minutes of scenes retold so that the interpretations of both sisters are recounted. Those critics of the film, particularly those who accuse director Anand Tucker of debasing Jackie’s memory, misread, or choose to ignore, the mammoth efforts that are made to present the viewpoints of both sisters.


The third, and final, segment of the film is an insightful piece of cinematography, using the camera to convey Jackie’s physical and mental state after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and her subsequent collapse. Sounds and images are nebulous, confused and become progressively more distorted, especially when accompanied by Jackie’s ‘signature’ version of Elgar’s Cello Concerto . The mis en scene veers away from that usually associated with biographical narrative, and screen takes on the more surreal visions that are associated with heightened subjectivity. Jackie can no longer be simply regarded as the manipulator of a sister who loved, respected and almost envied her. Tucker successfully manages to transform an audience’s disapproval to acute sympathy and affection.

There is no black and white in ‘Hilary and Jackie’, no monotones. Under Tucker’s direction, this fascinating story of family bonds becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy where societal norms are discarded, and the brilliance of an individual is annihilated by the wrath of the gods. Despite its basis in reality, ‘Hilary and Jackie’ will be remembered for a universality that touches all of us.
by Natasha Sacranie


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