Natalie Portman, in the title role, is simply stunning.
Initially, I thought her characterisation was a little too affected and exaggerated (her quiet, slightly ‘breathy’, slightly lispy way of speaking and her very particular way of walking), but I was quickly ‘won round’. In fact, her performance is quite extraordinary (surely an Oscar?). We see her life dissolving amid grief, politics and media management… at a time when she has to prepare to vacate the White House and to arrange a state funeral (as she sees it, “to rival that of Abraham Lincoln”).
There are a number of impressive performances by the supporting actors – including Peter Sarsgaard, Richard E Grant, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig – but Mica Levi’s wonderful musical score also deserves huge credit (although, perhaps to my shame, I only really became aware of it nearly half way through the film!).
Inevitably, I suppose, one is left reflecting on the parallels between the lives of Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy – both treated as iconic beauties by people (and the media) throughout the world.Most people from my generation (I was 14 at the time) are very familiar with the events surrounding JFK’s assassination and can recall images from that time… including watching Jackie Kennedy walking behind the gun-carriage carrying her husband’s coffin. It’s sobering to realise that it all happened 55 years ago… and that, perhaps, some of our ‘remembered’ images are simply television footage we’ve seen replayed over (and over) the intervening years. It now seems very strange to realise that JFK was only president for a little over two years.
The film brought it all back. Scenes from the White House almost felt like watching clips from “West Wing”! It was fascinating to realise that, within just a week of her husband’s death, Mrs Kennedy had summoned a journalist - wonderfully played in the film by Billy Crudup - to her home, aware (even then) of the historic importance of what had happened and of the opportunity to put her own ‘spin’ on events for all time. Some things don’t change!Without a doubt, it’ll be Natalie Portman’s mesmerising performance that you’ll remember from this film.
PS: Somewhat bizarrely, during the film, I also found myself reflecting on the twin images of Jackie Kennedy, ‘queen’ of the American ‘royal family’ living with all the associated luxury of the White House and of Cherie Blair, as she was caught opening the front door of their house in Islington in her nightdress on the morning after her husband’s election as prime minister!
PPS: Also a sense poignant irony to have watched John Hurt play the part of the elderly catholic priest who comforted Jackie in her grief, only to discover that (as I write this), he had died… at the age of 77.