Hilary and Jackie

Hillary and Jackie (1998)
★★ / ★★★★

Hilary (Rachel Griffiths) and Jackie (Emily Watson) are extremely close sisters. Because of their parents, much of their youth consisted of competitions: Hilary with her flute and Jackie with her cello. As adults, the sisters remain close, but the dynamics between them change when Jackie’s career begins to skyrocket. Hilary has happily chosen to marry while Jackie is left with prestige that she does not find all that rewarding. Eventually, the world-renowned cellist visits her elder sister in the country with a strange request shared over a game and a glass of wine.

Based on a memoir by Hilary and Piers du Pré, “Hilary and Jackie” has a fascinating story underneath the technical glitters that the screenplay has constructed for the sake of amplifying the drama. Instead of telling the story raw, it tries too hard to come off more poetic or artistic which puts a strain on the narrative. As a result, many of the thoughts and emotions that we are supposed to think about and feel are muffled.

The decision to divide the story in two perspectives is very necessary in order for the audience to have the chance to paint a complete portrait of the sisters. From the moment it changes gears, it begins to deconstruct some of our evaluations regarding their relationship. We get the feeling that the truth is somewhere in between the two versions, but it almost does not matter since Hilary and Jackie have sides to them that we can embrace and relate with.

Griffiths and Watson are wise in not playing their characters as complete opposites to the point where it is jarring. Hilary and Jackie have important differences but whenever the performers share a frame, they allow the similarities of the sisters to come through. When simplicity is shown on screen, like two just holding each other, the film is most effective. Having said that, I wished that the writing had done away with scenes that depict the two as having the ability to read each other’s minds. It hammers the point so strongly that eventually it starts to feel like a cheap device to allow those paying less attention to have a semblance of but ultimately shallow impressions of what the sisters are dealing with.

The latter half of the picture deals with Jackie being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The execution has some clinical touch in that it shows the disease for what it is. However, this brave approach does not last long. I suppose since the screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce wishes for the audiences to feel more sadness, the artificial dramatic elements seep their way through events that are better off without gloss. Some of these scenes appear manipulative.

Directed by Anand Tucker, “Hilary and Jackie” should have focused more on the identity of the woman underneath her extraordinary talent. While it touches upon Hilary du Pré’s ideation that perhaps she would have attained real happiness if she had been ordinary, it is unfortunate that the screenplay insists on injecting surreal elements that inadvertently serve as walls between her and us.

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