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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Film review: Natalie Portman’s portrayal of former first lady in Jackie is haunting

It seems almost purpose-built to deliver Natalie Portman her second Best Actress Oscar (after 2011’s Black Swan) – we will find out whether it does so when the Academy Awards are handed out next month.
Caspar Philipson as John F Kennedy, and Natalie Portman is his wife Jacqueline in Jackie. William Gray / Fox Searchlight via AP
Caspar Philipson as John F Kennedy, and Natalie Portman is his wife Jacqueline in Jackie. William Gray / Fox Searchlight via AP

Jackie

Director: Pablo Larrain

Starring: Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Richard E Grant

Four stars

Jackie is one of the most conflicted films I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It is good – but it does take a while to work out exactly what type of film it is supposed to be.

It seems almost purpose-built to deliver Natalie Portman her second Best Actress Oscar (after 2011’s Black Swan) – we will find out whether it does so when the Academy Awards are handed out next month.

The biopic covers one of the most significant moments in American history – the assassination of president John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963 – and the effect it has on his traumatised wife, Jackie (Portman) in the face of a still-marching government and the security services.

For the first half-hour or so, the film completely fails for me.

I was expecting a typical ­Hollywood political history – but at about the 30-minute mark, a scene in which a frantic Jackie rips her bloodied stockings off after the assassination, made me realise I wasn’t watching a historical drama at all.

This is a horror film, in the purest sense of the word.

There is no monstrous villain, obviously, but the ghost of JFK looms large, haunting his widow and everything else in the film.

The shaky camera work, unsettling close ups, the strange use of light, the sudden appearance of a priest (played by John Hurt, who died last week) who is the only person Jackie can open up to – it all could be straight out of a ­horror-movie text book.

I will need a second viewing to judge whether those first 30 minutes, which disappointed me due to my preconceptions, seem more fitting giving this new perception of the film and director Pablo Larrain’s vision, but as soon as you notice it, the film becomes an entirely ­different beast.

Far from being the political drama you expect, ­Jackie might, strangely, be the ­greatest ghost story you will see this year.

cnewbould@thenational.ae