THIS immensely powerful movie is a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband, 35th US President John F Kennedy, in November of 1963.
We first see the ashen-faced Jackie (Natalie Portman) wandering the grounds of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Here, the newly widowed former First Lady has assented to an interview with a Life magazine journalist (Billy Crudup), who quickly realises he's up against a formidable subject.
As the interview unfolds it reveals a shattered and angry Jackie, yet one keenly aware of the legend of herself. She might divulge feelings of weakness and resentment to her interlocutor, but she just as quickly redacts her comments. When the reporter tries to flatter her for her earlier performance guiding a CBS documentary crew through the White House, and asks her what she will do in her future, she hisses: "I can assure you: not television."
In contrast to this prickly encounter the film shows her in an outdoor conference with an elderly Catholic priest (John Hurt), as she more openly questions her faith, her future and will to carry on.
Flashback scenes move deferentially around these two key conversations. We see the murder in Dallas (quite graphically); the quick swearing in of Lyndon B Johnson (John Carroll Lynch); the machinations of JFK's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard); and most heart-shreddingly, the impact on the murdered president's kids.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made the choice to shoot the movie mostly in close up, keeping us in Jackie's immediate airspace. It's an uncomfortable closeness to the experience of a woman who has witnessed her husband's murder from a similar proximity.
Those hoping for a more upbeat tribute to Jackie Kennedy, perhaps delving into her early life and later marriage to Aristotle Onassis, may find the film suffocating. It's as much a poetic evocation of a traumatic national event as it is a character study. But we are given get a clear sense of Jackie's status as an American royal, her fierce intelligence and her influential fashion sense.
Portman wears the pillbox hats and French couture as convincingly as she wears Jackie's air of upper-class New York entitlement. She also doesn't soft-pedal the First Lady's strange, vaguely regal diction. This is a great and brave performance in a film that won't be everyone's cup of tea.
Jackie opens in cinemas tomorrow.
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt, Billy Crudup
Director: Pablo Larrain
Rating: MA 15+
Verdict: 4/5 stars
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