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Hilary and Jackie a Masterpiece
A review of Hilary and Jackie
by Robert A. Fulkerson

Hilary and Jackie is an outstanding movie based on the life of Jacqueline du Pré with excellent performances from Emily Watson as du Pré and Rachel Griffiths as her sister Hilary. Whereas movies based on true stories have a tendency to be heavy-handed with sentimentality, the script from Frank Cottrell Boyce is smart and intelligent and avoids overly sappy moments.

Director: Anand Tucker

Stars: Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, James Frain, David Morrissey

Rating: R

Release: 12-30-1998

Time: 120 minutes

Buy Movie at Amazon.com

Watson shines as Jackie, giving an Oscar-worthy performance. Her interpretation of Jackie's passion for the cello is mesmerizing onscreen, and her portrayal of the decline of Jackie's health is believable and not maudlin. Griffiths actually gives the more powerful performance in the film as Hilary, the sister who chooses to pursue love and a family instead of her budding musical career. The material she has to work with is less dramatic than Watson's, yet her every movement and spoken word reveal volumes about who Hilary is.

The narrative form of the film gives an interesting look into the sisters' lives.

The movie's exposition starts with both of the du Pré sisters, Hilary and Jacqueline, shown as children playing with each other on a beach. At the end of this opening sequence, the girls run into a woman standing on the beach at the edge of the ocean. Jackie runs over to see what she wants, and when she returns, informs Hilary of what the woman said. We don't hear what the woman said, nor do we see exactly who the figure is.

For the girls' timeframe of the next year or two, we see the rise of Hilary as an accomplished child flutist and the envy that develops in her sister. Jackie buckles down and becomes obsessed with being as good at the cello as her sister is with the flute so that she can share in the accolades being lauded upon her. After much hard work this happens, and Jackie surpasses Hilary's abilities and renown.

After a brief interlude when we see the two girls grown up, perhaps in their mid- to late-teens, we cut to an entire segment of the film that focuses on Jackie's life. So far, the linear timeline of the film and events is kept intact. Hilary's segment begins when she wakes up to find her sister has left her alone in a bed they shared while Jackie was playing the cello in an Italian royal family member's wedding. We go on to see the frustration of Hilary to maintain her status as an accomplished flutist, her disappointment that her sister hasn't kept in close contact with her or the rest of the family, and the development of her relationship with her future husband, Kiffer Finzi (David Morrissey). The film continues to follow Hilary into marriage, children and the return of her sister to Hilary and Kiffer's country house and the strange arrangement that follows.

At this point in the film, the casual viewer has nothing to judge Jackie on but her intermittent appearances in the life of Hilary, and at this point she's not presented in a flattering fashion.

It is at this point, however, that the film switches viewpoints and we get to see how life for Jackie developed. It picks up at the same place that Hilary's segment started, with Jackie being told she's been booked at another concert in Germany and that she must leave at once. She queries the messenger as to what she should do about her sister, who is lying not a foot from where she is, and is informed there isn't time to tell her anything.

We then follow her rise to fame in the music world and her seeming madness with the music itself. Jackie also meets her husband, Daniel Barenboim (James Frain), who shares Jackie's passion for music. There are points where we see scenes that fill in the back-story for events we already encountered in Hilary's segment, as well as scenes that follow up on events that happened in Hilary's segment. In some instances, the dialogue is expanded from what it was earlier in the film, and we get a better picture of the intricate relationship that the sisters share, and the love-hate relationship that Jackie has for the cello and the music itself.

At the point when we see Jackie leaving the Finzi farm, which we see at the end of Hilary's segment, the two story paths combine again, though the focus of the movie is still on the decline of Jackie's health. As her health spirals downward quickly, we see how their life choices have separated the sisters and created different personalities and priorities for each. At the end of the movie, we get circular resolution to the opening scene on the beach, where we find out what the mysterious woman on the beach said, and who she is. The closing shot is of the two younger sisters, standing on the beach, hugging each other, while the mysterious woman looks on.

Director Anand Tucker artfully creates a slight variation on the traditional Hollywood movie chronology. One continuous story is told from the beginning of the movie through to the end of Hilary's segment. Then a backtrack is made to pick up Jackie's life from the point that Hilary's started. Finally, we're taken full circle back to where the movie started. Tucker's insightful, slightly non-traditional direction of Boyce's screenplay packs an emotional punch and investigation into the lives of Hilary and Jackie du Pré.

For people who enjoy character-driven movies and don't mind a slower narrative pace than most movies, Hilary and Jackie is an absolute gem of a movie.