2016 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

A never-better Natalie Portman plays the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy - America's favourite first lady - in the stunned aftermath of her husband JFK's assassination. Emotionally adrift and sidelined by an establishment machine that immediately clicks into gear, Jackie must reassert herself, comfort her children and forge a new path under the gaze of millions. Diamond-hard yet emotionally raw, this masterly biopic - Chilean director Pablo Larrain's first English-language feature - breaks practically all the rules,

Director

  • Pablo Larraín

Cast

  • Natalie Portman

  • Peter Sarsgaard

  • Greta Gerwig

  • Billy Crudup

  • John Hurt

  • Richard E Grant

  • Caspar Phillipson

Review

Political widows don't come much more iconic than Jackie Kennedy - her famous ensemble of pink Chanel suit and matching pillbox hat became a symbol of her husband's assassination and one of the most iconic images of the 1960s.

However, following the shooting, the First Lady stepped out of the spotlight save for an interview with Life magazine where she memorably compared the Kennedy years in the White House to King Arthur's mythical Camelot.

It's this meeting that Chilean director Pablo Larrain uses as the basis for his engagingly unconventional chronicle of the days between JFK's assassination and his elaborate state funeral.

During her husband's presidency, Jackie had been determined to dispel the "silly little debutante" label and Larrain makes judicious use of 1962 TV special 'A Tour of the White House With Mrs John F Kennedy' to show the First Lady demonstrating her desire to honour the position in which she found herself.

It's these same corridors that she stalks, a grief-stricken widow forced to endure the sight of her successor - Ladybird Johnson (Beth Grant) - discussing fabric swatches with Jackie's old friend Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant) literally days after the tragedy.

Rather than standard chronological biopic, Larrain's winningly employs a mosaic technique with the framing device of a fictitious interview with Billy Crudup's unnamed journalist allowing the narrative to nervously flit between the tragic day in Dallas, the bitterly contested funeral arrangements, the bleak journey to Arlington Cemetery and the social swirl of the pre-assassination Washington days.

Portman showed what she was capable of in Black Swan but this is at another level, her voice adopting the hoarse cadences of Jackie and her desperation illustrated by her shock - while still in bloodstained clothes - at the speed with which LBJ usurped her dead husband - insisting on being sworn in on Air Force One even before leaving Dallas.

Larrain's off-kilter style thrusts Jackie centre stage and keeps her there, dealing firmly but with dignity the enormous pressures - both public and private - her grim predicament confronted her with.

Many would have wilted...but she did not. Few spring to mind in today's political climate who could have acted so nobly.

Tim Evans