“Jackie” is structured around an interview, which Jackie Kennedy gave to Life magazine a few days after the assassination of her husband President Kennedy. The interview, conducted here by a character known simply as The Journalist (Crudup), frames the action of the film as we move around the events of that week. But this is not simply a reconstruction of the events. The assassination in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 is now far enough in the past to merit imaginative historical speculation, which the film does convincingly with memorable visual imagery and a poetic subjectivity.
Chilean director Pablo Larraín in his English language debut takes those iconic images, which even people born long after the events will have seen – the pink suit and pillbox hat Jackie was wearing the day her husband died in her arms; the veiled widow; the two small children in their neat little coats and the horror of the assassination itself – and then speculates creatively on what was going on behind the scenes and in Jackie’s mind. Particularly poignant is the sequence of the newly widowed Jackie on the evening of the assassination stripping off her blood stained pink suit, showering the blood from her hair and then lying on her bed alone. Later we see her wandering through the White House in a series of beautiful dresses to the strains of a Richard Burton singing “Camelot”, which evokes the perception at the time of the Kennedys as American royalty, who created their own court in the White House.
Portman probably doesn’t look like Jackie Kennedy if you compare her closely to the photos of the period, but she has a comparable beauty and with the help of very good costume and make up design she is totally convincing, physically and emotionally in what is a virtuoso performance. She captures the apparent essence of the character. Jackie’s idiosyncrasies, such as her mannered voice in a clever recreation of the tour of the White House that Jackie hosted for television. Despite the flattery of The Journalist suggesting she would have made a good broadcaster, she frankly wouldn’t have and possibly knew it. “Are you giving me professional advice?”, she retorts to him caustically. The interaction in those interview scenes also reveals Jackie’s controlling nature. She is still in charge, even when her grief breaks though – a quality seen again in the scenes of major conflict over the funeral arrangements, when despite the panic of the security services Jackie insists that she and her children will accompany the coffin in the state procession through Washington.
Apart from Crudup, also prominent in a strong supporting cast are Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s loyal assistant. Mention should also be made of the effective and very unsettling music score by Mica Levi. But the spotlight is always on Portman as Jackie in a strong and moving star performance – and that is as it should be.
Review by Carol Allen