Take a look at this year’s batch of awards-friendly biopics (Lion (opens in new tab), A United Kingdom (opens in new tab), Queen of Katwe (opens in new tab)) and you’ll see they tend to close with footage or pictures of the real people they’re based on.
Jackie, Pablo Larraín’s gutsy, non-linear portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the run-up to her husband’s assassination, and the aftermath, goes one better by weaving actual archive with its ingenious fabrications, almost as if it’s daring us to spot the join.
Witness its recreation of A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy (1962), a seminal television special in which the First Lady unveiled the results of a $2m restoration project she personally spearheaded.
Up close it’s Natalie Portman, flawlessly replicating Jackie’s breathy delivery regal demeanour and wariness in front of the camera. But in long shot it’s Kennedy herself, silently participating from beyond the grave.
Anyone who saw Larraín’s 2012 film No (opens in new tab) will know how deftly the Chilean director can piece together compelling big-screen stories from historical facts. Yet his English language debut represents a quantum leap, offering a bold new take on one of the 20th Century’s most emotive episodes from the viewpoint of the person nearest it.
Like Sully (opens in new tab), this is a 90-minute film that revolves around a few fateful seconds. Yet screenwriter Noah Oppenheim finds an artful way of forestalling it by having Jackie interrogated by an unnamed reporter (Billy Crudup) who gently coaxes his brittle interviewee into sharing her perspective on the events of 22 November 1963.
As we build up to the assassination, we watch snapshots of what went before and after: a musical performance beside her husband (uncanny lookalike Caspar Phillipson), a traumatised Jacqueline accompanying his coffin out of Dallas, and a jaw-dropping sequence of her wandering through an eerily vacant White House, backed by Richard Burton burbling Lerner and Loewe’s ‘Camelot’.
We also watch Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) being sworn in on Air Force One, leaving Mrs. Kennedy out in the cold before she’s even had a chance to wash the blood from her hair.
Less integral is a pace-sapping dialogue between Jackie and a priest (John Hurt) in which matters of faith and fidelity are toyed with. That, fortunately, does nothing to diminish Portman’s majestic performance, an act of inhabitation whose embodiment of raw, lacerating grief is matched by the indomitability she displays as America’s First Widow.
Determined JFK will stand in posterity alongside Washington and Lincoln, Jackie fights through her anguish to give him the funeral he deserves. Larraín, you feel, has crafted her the cinematic tribute she deserves, too.