It came as a bit of surprise to find that there is a dearth of films about the women behind the most important man in the western world. Of course they are a part of any story involving The White House and the President of the United States but they are almost always consigned to minor roles and their importance to the administration is unfairly diminished. Jackie, though not a straightforward biography, goes some way to address this issue.

The film concentrates on Jackie Kennedy’s life directly after the assassination of her husband. It takes the form of a recall of events in the previous week as told, as in real life, to a newspaper reporter. As you can imagine it is an uncomfortable experience for both reporter and interviewee, but one that Jackie needs to get out of the way. What is then shown is the horror of the incident in Dallas followed by a most unreal week from the sole point of view of Jackie. On the outside she is poise personified but the story goes behind the carefully constructed facade to show the anguish that she had to endure.

The film revolves around the title performance of Natalie Portman. She has taken the essence of the person and created an on screen character that is memorable and in a lot of ways disturbing. Her portrayal of Jackie is no mere imitation job. Through close study and hard work she has  captured what is at the core of a person who has endured a massive trauma. There is no better way to describe it. She is in deep shock. Through restraint and minimalism Portman is able to convey this state. Due to this style, when it becomes intense it is all the more powerful due to dramatic shift in tone.

Kennedy was always known for her poise and grace. It was one of the things that appealed to the public at large. In the film Portman uses this to mask the grief and anguish that the character is feeling. She is barely holding it together. It is only her sense of duty and self worth that is keeping her from screaming. It is in the quiet, private moments do we see the ‘real’ person. She is fragile and almost alone. It is only her aide Nancy (Greta Gerwig) that can penetrate the shield in order to guide her through.

The story not told in the same way as a traditional biography. This is barely close to that. It uses flashbacks to key scenes in the aftermath of the shooting with a further callback to Jackie’s first solo TV appearance as she introduced the newly refurbished White House to the American public. Even as we are being swept along there is a realisation that what we are seeing is not quite the truth. What she is doing is making sure that the interview being conducted does not harm her image or that of her family. As she says at one point she cannot deny a statement as she never made it in the first place.

The mood of the film is set right from the opening scene. The camera is close up on Jackie’s face. The lack of distance reveals the pain that she is in as every movement in the facial muscles is there to see. Behind the images is a score from Mica Levi. The music immediately makes th audience take notice due to its discomforting nature. As soon as the audience is exposed to this there is a realisation that this is not your standard biographical movie.

John McArthur
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