Hilary and Jackie

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Irresponsible Revisionism

Nov 30, 2006 (Updated Dec 3, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:-None of consequence.

Cons:-The callous, vicious, and possibly permanent maiming of Jacqueline du Pré's memory.

The Bottom Line: This film is a cruel, unprovoked and grotesque travesty of one of the greatest musicians who ever lived.


(Readers are advised to check out my reviews at IMDB and Amazon.com, which make the same points.)

Arguably the greatest cello talent in modern history, Jacqueline du Pré was also the most tragic. At her height in the 1960s, concerts with her and Barenboim would make the world forget (for a while) Rostropovich and Casals. "Jackie", as everyone seemed to call her, was remembered by her friends and acquaintances as extremely flamboyant and impassioned with a love for her art. The dynamism and gaiety of her personality was expressed very conspicuously and beautifully in her playing. For many a lover of classical music she seemed to be an embodiment of talent -- dynamic, joyous, ethereally gifted. Then, tragedy struck: multiple sclerosis at 28, and rapid incapacitation. To those of us who kept Jacqueline's recordings with us, her death was agonizing particularly for the sense of loss (the breadth of her repertoire having been severely limited by MS). Her pedagogical legacy survives in the generation of cellists who studied under her tutelage.

_Hilary and Jackie_ is a film dramatization of du Pré's life, based on the controversial memoir by her siblings ("A Genius in the Family"). It presents a very heterodox portrayal of Jacqueline's overall character, and has been denounced by her friends and colleagues who knew her throughout her life (Barenboim, Rostropovich, et al) as a complete distortion of the Jacqueline they knew. For e.g., Jackie is remembered by her students and colleagues as being emotionally vibrant with a possessing love of her craft, while here she is portrayed as an insufferable bunch of neuroses who despised her cello -- it apparently having a negative influence on her self-esteem. She is depicted making an indulgent demand to have a sexual relationship with Finzi, her brother-in-law. Her sister Hilary (the apparent heroine of the story), ever selfless, obliges for the benefit of her apparently disturbed sister. The movie ends with Hilary at Jackie's side during her death throes even though (it is made clear) Jackie never did anything for Hilary in her life. If you take the movie's account, it was clearly more than Jackie deserved.

The account generally (but loosely) follows "A Genius in the Family", the controversial memoir written by Jacqueline's siblings. But her siblings are less reliable on most points than the colleagues who spent a larger amount of time with her. The two sisters were, furthermore, not on speaking terms for much of their lives. Although Hilary claims there was a reconciliation later, Jackie chose to surround herself with her friends instead of her family at death (contra the events in this movie). Clare Finzi, Hilary's daughter, wrote and contested the film account of events as a "gross misinterpretation, which I cannot let go unchallenged." She was referring to the actual events between her father and aunt, but the errors of omission are even significant, and at the same time worse. The film depicts Jacqueline as being unsympathetic, ignoring the aspects of her personality that made so many sympathize with her. Nothing here reminds one of the flamboyant cellist extensively recorded in Nupen's excellent documentaries _Remembering Jacqueline du Pré_ and _Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait_.

To add insult to injury, the director Anand Tucker doesn't even care about accuracy, stating that "it [truth] doesn't exist" due to divergent viewpoints. (One wonders what he would have made of Holocaust denial.) It's the height of hubris and irresponsibility to popularize sensationalist claims against a person's character without any concern for truth or respect for their memory. A certain critic posed the question of whether the film was a "travesty or painful truth", which is not the primary issue at all. W. K. Clifford famously said that if we cannot ascertain the grounds for a belief, we have no business in believing it. I would add that we have even less business in popularizing heterodox and unsubstantiated beliefs to a mass audience -- qualifying this posthumous attack on Jacqueline du Pré's character as a vicious and appalling act.

Defenders of the film claim that it portrays "another side" to Jacqueline's personality or offers a corrective to "official" documentaries or biographies. This misses the point. To the majority who watch the movie unreflectingly, there is only one "side" shown. Jacqueline du Pré obviously achieved much and suffered much in her life, and whatever your personal opinions regarding certain "theses" in the film itself, it is not a constructive tribute to her life's work as an artist and teacher. If Jackie is to be rememberd, it should be for that and not (to put it lightly) the dubious details of her sex life as "played out" and vulgarized in sensationalist media.

For a definitive account of the cellist's life, I suggest the biographies by Carol Easton and Elizabeth Watson. Also recommended are the excellent documentaries by Christopher Nupen, available on DVD: _Remembering Jacqueline du Pré_ and _Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait_, which have valuable archival footage of her. Also of interest is the memoir _A Genius in the Family_, written by Jackie's siblings. Ignore this sensationalist adaptation, which gives no impression of her achievements, and shamelessly and baselessly vilifies her character for cinematic purposes.


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