Author Topic: HILARY AND JACKIE (1998)  (Read 178 times)

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Offline agate

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« on: July 16, 2014, 08:42:06 am »
I saw this movie in 2002 and disliked it. I wanted to find out just what I disliked about it, and so I watched it a second time.

I still dislike it.

Much as I like the music of the ‘cello, this movie is trash and was  a very ill-advised venture.

It is based on a biography of the famed cellist  Jacqueline Du Pré, written by her sister and brother after her death. If the account the movie gives is true, her sister Hilary clearly would have had her own axes to grind. The story as presented would be a scandal in any family, and certainly in a family with claims to distinction in the rarefied world of classical music, it would be even more of a cause for wounded feelings and recriminations.

Jacqueline Du Pré was a child prodigy on the ‘cello, and her somewhat older sister Hilary was an apparently just as gifted prodigy on the flute. The baby brother is very much in the background as their mother occupies herself with shepherding the sisters through various rehearsals, lessons, practice sessions, and public performances.  The two girls seem to live and breathe their music.

The film opens with the two little girls playing at the seashore, with an adult woman in silhouette at a slight distance, staring out at the water. This woman might or might not be their mother. We’re led to believe it is.

Both child performers seem to have a habit of writhing while they play their instruments, perhaps pouring their whole selves into their music. We see Jackie doing this shortly after we see Hilary being scolded for it.  Their mother is constantly urging Jackie to be as good a musician as Hilary, whose talent seems to overshadow her younger sister’s at first.

They grow older, and Hilary finds a husband–Kiffer. She and Jackie are very close sisters, and in one of their heart-to-hearts, Jackie quite cruelly tells Hilary: “The truth is–you’re not special.” This is just one of many instances of Jackie’s outrageousness, the extent to which her wilfulness has been tolerated by those around her–probably for the sake of nurturing her remarkable talent.

Jackie is fairly well established as a cellist of note when she meets the well-known pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. In fact she says smirkingly to Barenboim just after meeting him: “You know perfectly well I’m a very famous musician.” In a flurry of well-publicized courtship, she converts to Judaism and is married to Barenboim.

How much time passes between her marriage and her affair with Kiffer isn’t clear, but she takes off without warning, leaving Barenboim wondering where she is, and descends on her sister and Kiffer and their two small children.

By this time we’ve got used to her twinkly smile and her cute little girl pose, but is she supposed to be cute as she flashes her winsome smile and whispers to Hilary that she’d like to sleep with Kiffer?

The answer is a firm No but Jackie isn’t one to give up. She goes into the couple’s bedroom and tries to wake Kiffer without Hilary’s knowledge. This doesn’t work, and so Jackie wanders off and stages a dramatic scene, peeling off her clothes and jumping into a woodland stream near where the Kiffers are staying. Of course Hilary comes along at just the right moment and rescues her–slightly injured but hysterically sobbing.

At this point Hilary’s heartstrings have been wrung, apparently, for she tries to persuade her husband to go along with this plan. Kiffer’s answer is no. But then “Danny” shows up and tells how Jackie had left without any notice. Distraught and desperate, he offers her a house, even a heliport, and various other goodies, but she’s having none of these, and Danny, who seems to be a very busy man, hastily leaves in a taxi after his offers are refused.

But it seems that Jackie needs to be reassured that she’s loved. Or at least that’s Hilary’s take on the situation. So the plan goes forward, and the next morning we find Jackie thankfully hugging Hilary in front of Kiffer.

The next thing Jackie wants, it turns out, is a ménage à trois. And she gets that too.

Time passes, probably (though the movie is sketchy about the passage of time). After Jackie has apparently overheard Hilary making love to Kiffer, Hilary tries to tell Jackie off but confronts Jackie’s relentless ‘cello playing as Jackie, seemingly so engrossed in her devotion to music, refuses to hear a word she is saying.

She continues her bratty behavior, seeming to glory in her own impishness and getting away with a dimply femininity time and time again.

Having been given one of the world’s finest ‘cellos and warned that it is sensitive to temperature extremes, she deliberately leaves it out in the snow.

By this time she and Barenboim are both major stars in the music world.

But then she breaks a glass and sees that her hand is shaking. Next she has a bladder accident (very dramatic music on the soundtrack at this point). Then she can’t get up off her chair while onstage in a performance, and Barenboim helps her off.

Well, it’s multiple sclerosis, and the way she puts it is never qualified or contradicted: “I’ve got a fatal illness.”  She chirrups, “I’m so relieved it’s only MS!”

Her father’s reaction just after the diagnosis: “It’s better than going bonkers. I was sure she was going bonkers.”

Is this the interpretation of her behavior that the movie audience is expected to accept? MS does sometimes involve a psychotic episode,  but this is not made clear in the movie.  Are we supposed to believe that anyone who is acting pouty and as if every whim should be indulged is probably showing the first signs of MS? And then are we supposed to believe it is always fatal? Even then (1973), MS was by no means an invariably fatal disorder, and many people with it lived on for decades.

However, Jacqueline Du Pré’s case of multiple sclerosis was exceptionally severe. She died at the age of 42 after years of severe disability. We see her towards the end, confined to a wheelchair, struggling to speak or to dial a phone, then unable to eat. In another scene she is crying uncontrollably in the wheelchair.

Her sister Hilary, meanwhile, gave up on her promising career as a flautist in favor of marriage and children.

I’m not sure what the movie’s ending is meant to convey. There is a repeat of the childhood beach scene, but this time the silhouetted woman turns out to be the adult Jackie, reassuring the child Jackie that everything will be all right (sad ‘cello music in the background).

I don’t think this movie should have been made. While seeming to be factual, it might be completely untrue. At least it is obviously skewed against Jackie, despite some superficial attempts at seeming objective, like the movie’s two major divisions, entitled “Jackie” and “Hilary,” leading us to believe that we’re getting two sides of the story.

And just how is everything going to be all right? Jackie’s life wasn’t going to be “all right” because it ended so prematurely–and with intense suffering.
MS Speaks--online for 12 years

SPMS, diagnosed 1980. Avonex 2001-2004. Copaxone 2007-2010.