Rated R - Running time: 2:05 - Released 12/30/98

Emily Watson was nominated for the best actress Oscar for her role in Anand Tucker's Hilary And Jackie, and for good reason. She portrays with strength and range the tragic story of British cellist Jacqueline du Pré, struck down at the height of her career with multiple sclerosis. Playing opposite Watson is Rachel Griffiths as Jacqueline's sister Hilary, who ended up living in the shadow of her famous sibling. The story, based on the novel A Genius In The Family by the real Hilary du Pré and her brother Piers, and adapted for the screen by Frank Cottrell Boyce, shows the struggle of the two sisters to overcome their envy for each other and deal with the uncertain nature of the human experience. Tucker's direction suits the material with expert subtlety.

The story: Jacqueline du Pré, called by some "the greatest talent to ever play the cello," was born in Oxford in 1947. After showing considerable talent at a young age, Jacqueline eventually studied under such famous cellists as Casals, Tortelier and Rostropovich. At 20, she recorded the Elgar Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, a recording which established her as a star. She was married in 1967 to pianist Daniel Barenboim, and the two produced many recordings together. Then, in 1973, she was diagnosed with MS, and her health began to deteriorate. She died in 1987 at 42.

The film: When the sisters are young, they both show promise in music — Hilary with the flute, Jackie with the cello. At first it is Hilary who wins the competitions and impresses the judges, but eventually, Jackie surpasses her. She is whisked into a musical career, touring the globe while Hilary settles down and gets married. Jackie's quick rise to fame proves overwhelming, however, and soon the weight of stardom begins to wear her down. She abandons her career and returns home, staying with Hilary and her husband for a while. Finally she decides she must face her lot in life, not knowing that it is about to take another unpleasant turn.

Watson's range is evident: She is able to portray the playful young girl; the petty, immature woman with fame thrust upon her; the pain of a crippling disease; the wistfulness of having chosen an unforgiving path. Not to mention learning how to copy du Pré's famous physical style of playing the cello. Her honesty with the part is beautiful; Jackie only thrives as the center of attention and holds little respect for the accolades thrust upon her. She tells people she hates the cello, intentionally abuses her instrument, and mails her dirty laundry home to be washed. But through Watson's performance and the subtleties of Boyce's script and Tucker's direction, we see that these acts are just desperate attempts to reach out for love and intimacy. We see it in her face when her clothes return, bathed in the fragrance of home.

The script is genuine, and shows us a large segment of the girls' lives from both viewpoints, illustrating how differently the two women perceive certain events. There are powerful performances all around in this film, not only by Watson and Griffiths, but also by David Morrissey as Hilary's husband Kiffer, and Charles Dance and Celia Imrie as the girls' parents. As in many films that portray life with true realism, there is no villain here, except perhaps human nature. It is interesting to note that the Elgar Cello Concerto used in this film is the actual duPré recording.

Hilary And Jackie is a classic tragedy, but also a triumph: It illustrates not only the taxing nature of fame but the victory of love over adversity. ****½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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