Hilary and Jackie. Director Anand Tucker 1998

This portrayal of the relationship between  Jacqueline Dupre and her sister, met fulsome praise and bitter criticism when it was released. If you have never met an artist, or a child,  you may experience this film as ‘an astoundingly rich and subtle exploration of sibling rivalry and the volcanic collisions of love and resentment’ ( Stephen HoldenNYT 30.12.98) or as about ‘riding the tiger of genius’ ( Roger Ebert Sunday Times 12.1.99).

I confess, however interested I am in human nature, I rarely leave a bio-pic without feeling sullied and deeply troubled, sometimes by the events, but more often as in this case,  by their portrayal.

The simple facts of Jacqueline’s life: her extraordinary talent, her meteoric success, her early loss of the ability to play through MS and her death at 42 are enough to make one weep. Yet with all this, together with film footage of her playing, access to the memories of her siblings, and an astonishingly good cast, the film is like a soup into which you have thrown the finest ingredients in a surly mood:  it leaves a bad taste.

It  hurtles along the trajectory of the relationship of the two sisters, directing us along a single track: Jacqueline’s gift was driven by her  envy of her sister;  achievement of acclaim does not assuage a need for love and and becoming  increasingly unhappy, she breaks in upon the ideal bucolic existence of her sisters family life which she proceeds to take over, even sleeping with her husband.

This crude and highly conventional opposition of the life of tortured artist,  and the rural bliss of an ‘ordinary’ person was troubling, as was the sketchy portrayal of the Dupre family life, the limited dialogue assigned to her father and brother( Charles Dance and Rupert Penry Jones), the ungainly leaping from idyllic playful intimacy between the sisters to unmitigated envy ( assisted by a nausea inducing circling camera action to indicate girlish joy and the passage of time). Key phrases are dropped in such as’ if you want to be praised you have to be as good as your sister,‘ and ‘ that’s where you are wrong, you aren’t special’
( Jackie to Hilary). These narrative indicators sit awkwardly within the drama,  unintegrated, like stone markers placed along a motorway; there’s no sense of real choice about the interpretation you are meant to make. There’s no attempt to present the complexity of experience and little sense of interiority.  This clumsiness and lack of insight made the narrative into a mawkish island hopping through the events of their lives.

The screenplay drew on conversations with the siblings in the course of writing their memoir ‘ A Genius in the Family’. Despite the richness of the material, some additional events were made up ( I hope the one featuring the mistreatment of the cello.)  On You tube I found a different Jacqueline.  Performances, interviews with Barenboim and her mother and a film of her, Barenboim, Perlman and Zuckerman monkeying about before a concert. A joyful Jacqueline, full of fun and fully present in her performances. In  an interview about four years before her death, she is clearly ill, but articulate, precise, playful and lacking in vanity. This is much closer to the person described by John Williams, Julian Lloyd Webber and the other friends who sent in their protests to the Times
Of course we can all be angels and demons, but the avoidance of any exploration of the dynamics raises hackles and suspicions as to the motives behind the film.  Most telling was the decision to have all but a short sequence of  Jacqueline’ s performances played by someone else, Caroline Dale.  So her voice is twice taken, once by MS and once by the film industry. Of course there are recordings, but this is a very public erasure. Shame, Anand Tucker. Shame on you.

Hilary and Jackie will be shown at the Kino-tear 29th September.

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