Review written for WMN Magazine, a university project at City, University of London. You can also access it here.
When asked about the legacy of her husband, Jackie Kennedy gave an interview to Theodore H. White (played by Billy Crudup) where she tells him about the days following the death of her husband, and what the journalists wanted to hear: “the sound the bullet made”.
This shocking statement plunges you into a movie that perfectly recreates her memory of the hard days when she was suddenly left on her own in the White House with her two young children.
The first 10-15 minutes drag on with too many flashbacks that make the plot hard to follow. But this feeling goes away when Jackie really opens up to the journalist and decides to tell him her story.
The reconstruction of the 1960s atmosphere and the events themselves by director Pablo Larraín is amazing. This includes little details such as the TV report of the arrest of alleged murderer Lee Oswald seen live by the entourage of the Kennedys, to when Jackie made a tour of the presidential residence for television crews to welcome the American people in her house.
Although the music, which mostly consists of string instruments, is stressful rather than sad, the production makes up for it. The whole cast is physically so close to the original characters they play that it is easy to lose oneself in History. Natalie Portman is no exception to the rule and her interpretation of Jackie is always on point and transmits all the grief and loneliness of this new widow who just lived through a traumatic experience.
Through Portman’s eyes, the viewer sees the then First Lady adjusting back to life as an ordinary American citizen. She not only witnessed the bloody attack on her husband. But she also faces the impression that everyone has already forgotten about him, as President Johnson is nominated to replace JFK. She has to pack her bags, tell her children the truth, and organise a national funeral.
This portrayal of sadness, uncertainty, maybe even fear, is perfectly played by Portman, who absorbs every single detail of the First Lady’s character and appearance – going as far as getting her particular accent correct.
And if a flashback to the assassination together with the sudden sound of the bullet piercing the air may be brutal, this seems to be necessary to understand how strong of a woman Jackie Kennedy was. A great and touching movie you should not miss.
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, Max Casella, Beth Grant…
Produced by Wild Bunch, Protozoa Pictures, Why Not Productions…