The Woman Behind the First Lady – Natalie Portman as Jackie – by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
With the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and all the scrutiny on the first couple that entails, it seems an appropriate moment for the release of Jackie; which delves into Jackie Kennedy’s reactions to her husband’s assassination, as a new president is swiftly inaugurated, and she faces life outside the White House.
Of course this isn’t the first time the eponymous first lady has been pictured on screen, played through the years by Jaclyn Smith, Parker Posey, Jacqueline Bisset, and Katie Holmes amongst others. However, like many first ladies, portrayals of Kennedy have rarely gone beyond the relationship with her world famous husband, and her role as a style icon.
This is where the undoubtedly stylish poster for Jackie is perhaps misleading. Though the film of course shows her poised ‘society woman’ public face, and iconic fashion sense; it also offers a glimpse into the private individual: more intelligent, cool, and spiky in her private interview with journalist Theodore H White (Billy Crudup), which was carefully edited during her lifetime.
Similarly, the most powerful scenes of the film are the fleeting, quiet moments, in which Bobby Kennedy (a magnificent Peter Saarsgard) sits in the Lincoln Bedroom mourning all the work they could have done; or Jackie (Natalie Portman) watches as mannequins are dressed to copy her hairstyle, and her outfits. These work because of their subtlety, showing the personality of flawed individuals who have now become icons of their age.
In contrast, more dramatic moments are drowned by the musical score’s obvious attempts to pull on the heartstrings. Rather than adding to the emotion of key scenes, it distracts from the humanity; turning mournfully beautiful close ups and all too recognisable moments of personal grief into classic epic drama.
The political biopic is an age-old genre with seemingly endless scope (and promise of Award nominations.) But, summed up in the power of ultra close-up shots on Portman’s face; what makes Jackie interesting is its focused attention on one woman, and how she adjusts to unthinkable change. It is complex and often difficult to watch, but there lies the reality.