Hilary and Jackie

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The Price Of Genius

Jun 6, 2002 (Updated Oct 15, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
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Pros:Splendidly moving story, Powerful performances, Beautifully filmed

Cons:Film sequences move back and forth in time and can be confusing

The Bottom Line: Beautiful, tender, film about the lives of two extraordinary women.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

Virtuoso English cellist Jacqueline Du Pre died at the age of 42 from complications of multiple sclerosis. The 1998 film Hilary and Jackie is on based her biography, A Genius In The Family, written by Hilary Du Pre and her brother Piers. In only her second directorial effort, Anand Tucker transforms this story into a complex, multi-layered, examination of the lives of two extraordinary women.

The early part of the film explores Hilary (Auriol Evans) and Jackie's (Keeley Flanders) childhood. Hilary is initially the more prodigious talent, as a flutist, invited to perform at a concert for the BBC in London at age 13. Jackie, who is learning to play the cello, is jealous of Hilary's attention and practices obsessively in order to achieve musical equality with Hilary and accompany her to concerts. Eventually, Jackie surpasses Hilary in her musical ability as the two extremely close sisters start to grow apart. Jackie begins to establish her career as a famous concert cellist and Hilary, pursues a quiet life in the country raising a family.

The film then moves into separate chapters, much as a three act play, with the second part revealing the story of the sister's lives from Hilary's (Rachel Griffiths) viewpoint. Jackie (Emily Watson) arrives unannounced at Hilary's country home, beginning to show the signs of the mental and emotional strain of celebrity. After sensing Hilary's hesitation to allow her to sleep with her husband, Hilary finds Jackie naked, bleeding, and sobbing in the forest. Jackie's explanation " I just want to feel loved by someone." Although confused by Jackie's behavior, Hilary is powerless to deny Jackie her heart, her soul, and her husband.

Almost seamlessly, the film diverts to Jackie's viewpoint, as we marvel at her relentless concert schedule that stretches from Moscow to Madrid. The focal point is Jackie's marriage to the equally acclaimed Conductor and Pianist Daniel Barenboim, (James Frain) with whom she has a passionate, but not particularly supportive relationship. When Jackie asks Daniel if he would love her if she were not a musician, he replies, "I can only see you as what you are, and you are a musician." In these scenes, we begin to sense Jackie's fractured personality as we hear the cacophonous, fragmented, sounds of her inner world, while she is entranced in a flawless performance Sr. Edward Elgar's Concert for Concerto in E Minor, the work with she is most notably identified.

The last part of the film deals with Jackie's physical decline and Hilary's attempts to reconcile their stormy relationship and the strong emotional bonds of their sisterhood. It is in Hilary's arms, that Jackie finds the greatest solace as she breaths her final breaths.

Rarely does a film explore the core of it's characters as deeply as Hilary and Jackie. The sister's complex relationship and family dynamics are exposed with a raw power, as if the two are being emotionally disrobed. Emily Watson is stunning in her performance as Jackie, evoking a beguiling portrait of the troubled artist. Rachel Griffiths is equally gripping as the more grounded, but fragile object of Jackie's search for stability. Griffith has an amazing ability to communicate with her eyes and facial expression transcending dialog, and capturing the essence of the moment.

Director Anand Tucker purposely repeats several scenes as experienced from the perspective of both sisters. This technique comes across as a bit awkward, but is successful in revealing the depth of the sister's ambivalent relationship, as in one scene Hilary confesses to Jackie, "if you think it's easier being an ordinary person than an extraordinary one, you're wrong. If you didn't have that cello to prop you up, you'd be nothing."

This film is exquisitely filmed with a scintillating soundtrack of music from Hadyn, Beethoven, Dvorak, Brahms and other classic romantic composers. In the scenes in which Jackie is performing with the cello, Watson appears to literally float into oblivion as she translates the emotion of the music through her finger movements and the swaying of her body.

Hilary and Jackie is an elegant expression of the triumph and tragedy of the brief life of Jacqueline Du Pre. It deals in equal parts with family dynamics, the pressures of celebrity, and the limitations and disappointments of romance to heal life's harshest wounds. Most of all, it is a celebration of the love and rivalry of epic proportions, in the lives of the Du Pre sisters.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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