Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jackie: Monday, January 30 2017

Jackie (2016) is a film I didn't feel I wanted to see. I knew the story: and I am not an admirer of Jackie Kennedy; the Kennedy family; or Camelot. Nor did I really want to be reminded of a painful incident in American history. My friend, Lois, prevailed on me to see it, and I'm glad that she did.

The film focuses on the interview that Jacqueline Kennedy granted to Theodore H. White, of Life magazine. He met with her at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and this is where the film begins and ends. Billy Crudup plays White, absolutely brilliantly. He shows the right blend of obsequious attitude in his dealings with Jackie, and yet his strong, professional core keeps peeping through. This demonstrated the snobbish side of the First Lady, who was so aware of her station in life, and wanted others to be aware also. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

The point strongly made right at the beginning of the interview, and the film, is that the viewpoint that will be put forward is that of Jackie. This will be the story of the assassination of the American President, and the events following it, from the point of view of the First Lady. That is exactly what the film does. Correctly named Jackie, the movie shows her strong sense of drama and history. She wanted the point made that the myth she had created around the White House, of Camelot, has been destroyed by a bullet. John Kennedy was not only the President, he was also a family man, he was a husband and father, and she wanted it emphasised that this too had been destroyed.

When the Johnson administration tried to persuade her to change out of her blood-stained clothes, she refused. She insisted on being at the swearing in of the new President Johnson, and then accompanying the body of Kennedy back to Washington. She was at the forefront of the funeral, along with her children. Who can ever forget John Kennedy Junior, almost three years old, saluting his father's coffin? Jackie claimed her rightful place as First Lady, and widow of President John F. Kennedy, at the side of the slain President. John Kennedy was laid to rest by his widow, with dignity and drama. The play was over, and finished on a strong, high note. The assassin and his bullets were totally eclipsed. The woman who had been seen as a bit of a lightweight, a fashion plate, had proven herself to be much more than that. It was demonstrated clearly who had set the tone of the White House and created the mythology around the Presidency.

Jackie was directed by Pablo Larrain, and written by Noah Opperheim. Larrain is a Chilean, and this probably helped him create an objective film. It is a factual stating of the events around the assassination of President Kennedy, even if completely from the point of view of the First Lady. We do have enough of an inkling into the exasperation of the Johnson entourage at Jackie's behaviour, to glimpse their point of view. There is also a slight hint at how the Kennedy family must have felt at being kept so totally out of the picture. It is clear that Jackie was in charge of the picture being painted of the events, and that she was determined that Camelot would come to an end in a fitting manner. This film makes that clear. Brilliant!

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy is well-cast. She portrays Jackie as the strong, determined woman she really was, behind the surface veneer of fashion queen. That facade that was presented so effectively to the public, was part of Jackie's understanding of drama. Image and branding are so important when creating a mythology. If the First Lady had a softer side, and perhaps a sense of humour, that was kept under strict control. The part she was playing was always to the fore. Portman did an amazing job of presenting us with the woman Jacqueline Kennedy wanted us to see. Peter Sargaard was believable as Robert F. Kennedy, and John Hurt, playing his last part before his death, was interesting as Father Richard McSorley, the Roman Catholic priest who ministered to Jackie.

A competent film; made by professionals; my friends enjoyed it. I can't say I enjoyed it, per se, but I did find it interesting and am glad I saw it.

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