By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
We all know the stories of the presidents who held office in the White House. Their administrations are their legacies, however it is to a lesser extent that we know the stories of the strong-willed women who stood beside them.
But in Pablo Larrain’s latest film, Jackie, it is history’s most iconic First Lady, Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy, who takes centre stage.
Jackie Kennedy (Academy Award winner Natalie Portman) seemed to live the idyllic life. As wife of the charismatic President of the United States John F. Kennedy (Casper Phillipson), Jackie spent her time fulfilling her First Lady duties while caring for their children.
Perfectly poised, softly spoken and a fashion icon, Jackie spends her time redecorating the White House, hosting lavish soirees and jet-setting with her husband.
However, her world is shaken after the 1963 assassination of her husband. Under the scrutiny of the public eye, Jackie navigates through her grief as she prepares to leave the White House, raise her young children as a single mother and plan her husband’s funeral.
The narrative follows Jackie a week after her husband’s death as she summons Life reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) to write an article to cement the Kennedys’ legacy.
In real life, this encounter resulted in an article that declared Kennedy’s administration was as grand as Camelot, an ideal that endured for decades and cemented the Kennedys as one of the White House’s most iconic families.
Noah Oppenheim’s non-linear screenplay juxtaposes Jackie’s life both before and after her husband’s assassination, as she recounts to White her time in the White House via flashback.
The use of the real life interview scenario is profoundly effective and allows viewers to see how Jackie transitioned from timid housewife to a dutiful yet powerful First Lady, who knew how to use the media to her advantage.
Natalie Portman delivers one of the best performances of the year, and a career-defining portrayal that rivals her Academy Award-winning turn in Black Swan. She is perfectly cast as Jackie, from her elegant poise to her softly spoken voice.
Portman effortlessly switches between a grieving wife and a calculated and strong-willed First Lady, who calls the shots with both elegance and fierceness to ensure the world remembers her family.
Yet Portman also delves into Jackie’s insecurities as a widow who questions her future as a former First Lady and whether her marriage was in fact as perfect as she has helped the media depict it.
Larrain takes some creative licence with the narrative, including one scene where Jackie grieves for her husband while listening to a recording of Camelot, drinking away her sorrows and parading around in her most lavish outfits.
While it may not have occurred in real life, it is a powerful scene that shows that behind that elegantly coifed hair and perfect smile was an everyday woman who had her own insecurities about her future.
Larrain also takes licence with Jackie’s conversations with an Irish priest, Father Richard McSorley, played by John Hurt. In these conversations, she questions her faith after the loss of her husband and baby, her marriage and her will to live.
Hurt’s priest shines in the scene as he rebuilds her confidence in her faith. The scene is well-written and relatable, and a reminder that even history’s most powerful and iconic personalities turn to their faith and religious leaders when in need.
Jackie is a beautifully crafted film that gives an insightful look into a private yet iconic woman’s life during one of history’s most defining moments.
While the film is about one of the world’s most glamorous women, there is little glamour in Jackie as the subject matter focuses on a distressing time in her life. The film has some gory and distressing scenes and at times can be slow paced.
But with a superb cast led by Portman, stunning costumes and a solid screenplay, Jackie – like the former First Lady herself – is mesmerising to watch.
Jackie is in cinemas now. The Australian Classification is Mature Accompanied (MA15+) – containing strong content and legally restricted to persons 15 years and over.
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