Hilary and Jackie

** *1/2 Stars
(US 1998)

Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, David Morrissey, James Frain

Directed by: Anand Tucker

Writing credits: Frank Cottrell Boyce

October Films * 120 minutes

If Emily Watson, Meryl Streep, and Susan Sarandon all receive Oscar nods this year, it will be a sure sign that all actresses must die movie-star deaths in order to be taken seriously. The latest entry in this disturbing parade of the doomed is first-time feature director Anand Tucker's HILARY AND JACKIE, which features a knockout performance by Emily Watson (BREAKING THE WAVES, THE BOXER) as renowned cellist Jacqueline DuPré. This is one of those movies that stays in your head days after it has outstayed its welcome -- it's that powerful, that depressing -- and that good.

HILARY AND JACKIE is based on Hilary DuPré's book (written with brother Piers) A Genius in the Family, and as such, is by definition a biased account of the relationship between a somewhat talented flutist (Hilary) and her younger, more attractive, and ultimately more successful sister (Jacqueline). The story of the two musician sisters is one of a relationship that is both close and adversarial, and therefore emblematic of the conflicts that characterize the interactions between many pairs of sisters.

Hilary DuPré is portrayed as a rising young musician when her younger sister Jacqueline eclipses her achievements and goes on to become the toast of classical music fans all over Europe. Seemingly living a charmed life, including critical acclaim, international travel, and a musical marriage to classical pianist Daniel Barenboim (played hunkily, yet sensitively by James Frain as an Exotic Jewish Genius); she is shown as profoundly ambivalent about her career. She experiences a breakdown which appears to have been related to her contracting multiple sclerosis, which ended her career at age 28, which she battled until her death in 1987 at age 42.

Because Jacqueline is not here to write her own story, we rely totally on Hilary's point of view, and therefore she is portrayed at the selfless mother and sister and her husband Kiffer Finzi (David Morrissey) is handsome, charming, boyishly adorable, and perfect. Jacqueline is selfish, bitchy, and unsympathetic, until multiple sclerosis ravages her talent, and then her life. In a sequence played slightly differently in the two point-of-view segments, the ascendant Jackie deflates her sister with a comment so withering that this viewer winced both times. In the "Hilary" segment of the film, the onset of her illness is portrayed as more a descent into madness, while in the "Jackie" section it is more harrowingly portrayed in the first person as first a loss of ability to play -- in the middle of a concert, then as the fog characteristic of MS patients, and finally as complete disability and death, presented harrowingly and hauntingly by cinematographer David Johnson.

An unexpected treat in the film is the all-too-brief appearance (her first in twenty-five years) of Nyree Dawn Porter, (familiar to Masterpiece Theatre veteran viewers as Irene in 1968's THE FORSYTE SAGA), as Dame Margot Fonteyn. In fact, one of the film's most disturbing sequences shows her blithely hosting one of those horribly artsy parties, while Jacqueline lies, dying and writhing uncontrollably, in a darkened back room.

The film is rounded out by a powerful score by Barrington Pheloung, punctuated by actual Jacqueline DuPre recordings of music from Elgar, Bach, and Dvorak.

HILARY AND JACKIE provides no uplifting moments, no happy endings, no Important Messages, but it is an affectingly told rendition of a heartbreakingly sad story.

HILARY AND JACKIE  official site

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