FILM REVIEW of Jackie by Don Perlgut — Few Americans are held in such mythical regard as Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Kennedy, the late wife of the assassinated president John F Kennedy. A stylish and tragic figure, she was left a widow with two young children after the death of JFK.
Jewish actress Natalie Portman expertly captures Jackie Kennedy’s mannerisms and style in a powerful and brave performance in Jackie – a role that will surely place her in the front row of next month’s Oscars.
Although Jackie lovingly references the stage musical Camelot (written by Jewish songwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe), which operated as an anthem for the short-lived idealistic Kennedy administration, the film holds none of the musical’s romantic optimism.
Set primarily in the week following president Kennedy’s death, the film instead is a close study of Jackie’s powerful grief, and her determined actions to locate her husband’s place in American historical memory through an unforgettable state funeral that included walking behind a horse-drawn casket.
That Portman makes this personal agony so watchable is a testament to the depth of her towering performance, her excellent co-stars and Chilean director Pablo Larrain, working on an English movie for the first time.
The film uses two techniques to illustrate this tragic moment of American history. First is a re-creation of the events of the assassination and its aftermath, notably with scenes of Jackie cradling president Kennedy’s bloodied head as the car speeds to Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital, both of them shielded by Secret Service agent Clint Hill (David Caves).
The film also follows Jackie during the crucial four days following the assassination and planning of JFK’s funeral, in which she took the lead role through the force of her personality.
The other technique – a great achievement by Jewish scriptwriter Noah Oppenheim – involves two confessional talks that Jackie had in the days following the tragedy: an interview with historian Theodore H White (Billy Crudup) that resulted in a famous Life magazine article, and a counselling session with radical Jesuit priest Richard McSorley (John Hurt).
These “reconstructed” private sessions allow the filmmakers to reveal Jackie’s most intimate thoughts, giving the film great depth and insight into her mind and psyche at the time.
Although Jackie can be difficult to watch at times, it is a “must see” for fans of American political history.
Each member of the excellent cast plays a real-life figure, including Robert F Kennedy (Peter Saarsgard), Jackie’s friend and adviser Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), president Lyndon B Johnson (John Carroll Lynch), Johnson’s wife “Lady Bird” (Beth Grant), film lobbyist and Johnson adviser Jack Valenti (Max Casella), journalist and Kennedy friend William Walton (Richard E Grant) and president Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
The film will withstand repeated viewings so that we can pick out other famous figures who appear, including children John F Kennedy Jr and Caroline Kennedy, sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, brothers-in-law Peter Lawford and Sargent Shriver, mother Rose Kennedy, Jackie’s -step-father Hugh Auchincloss, Texas governor John Connally, secretary of defence Robert McNamara and Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee.
The re-created Washington DC of the period, down to what appears to be the actual location of Kennedy’s burial site at Arlington National Cemetery, is also superb.
The film’s release is timely as our interest in US “first ladies” is high as the world bids goodbye to the much beloved Michelle Obama and welcomes the still unknown Melania Trump.
Jackie Kennedy’s later years (not covered in this film) also have two fascinating Jewish connections. She spent the last 14 years of her life living with Belgian-born Yiddish-speaking Jewish diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman. Although they never married, he is widely acknowledged to be her third great love.
And Jackie’s daughter Caroline, who is currently the US Ambassador to Japan, married a Jewish man, Edwin Schlossberg.
Jackie is currently screening.