Princess Padme of Camelot: Natalie Portman is the Best Jackie Kennedy Yet.

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, after conquering audiences with the spiritual journey El Club, has grown a liking for biographical films. He presented in Cannes a film about Nobel Prize-winning poet, Neruda, and recently arrived at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals with Jackie, about the legendary First Lady of the United States.

An innumerable amount of films and television series have been made about Jacqueline, née Bouvier, who became Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Onassis as well as an icon of style, patron of the arts and the most admired woman of the 20th century.

The list of actresses who have tried to convey her charisma on screen is long; from Jacqueline Bisset (in 1978’s The Great Tycoon and 2003’s America’s Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story), all the way to Katie Holmes (in 2011’s TV mini-series The Kennedys). But Natalie Portman beats them all. The breathiness of her voice, her mid-Atlantic accent, and the grace in her posture, majestically bring back to life Jackie Kennedy.

Jacqueline Kennedy was no ingenue. Before entering the most prominent dynasty of politicians, she had worked as a reporter for the Washington Times-Herald. Her background in media turned out to be useful to promote her public image. Some people believed Jackie’s innocent reverence for her husband was the ploy of a Machiavellian woman, and defined her as a “widow of opportunity.” This is exactly Larraín’s angle for his Jackie, as the film follows the First Lady in the days following the assassination of her husband, in 1963.

Emmy-winning television producer Noah Oppenheim gives great depth to what could be depicted as a mere Lady Macbeth of the cultural decade. His philosophically energizing script, intertwines action with existential reflections. The kick starter is how Mrs. Kennedy invited the journalist Theodore White to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis for an exclusive interview, to serve as the basis for an article on Life magazine dedicated to the President.

In the movie the journalist (Billy Crudup) is not given a name, but the dynamics between interviewer and interviewee definitely give us a sense of the grit behind the suave Lady Kennedy. The chit-chat retraces the tragic day of November 22, 1963, while on a campaign trip to Dallas, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Jackie’s famous pink suit was showered in her husband’s blood. When boarding Air Force One back to Washington, Jackie’s world – including her faith – was completely shattered. Over the course of the next week she had to confront the unimaginable: consoling her two young children, vacating the White House and most importantly planning her husband’s funeral, accompanying his coffin to Arlington Cemetery. Her conversations with her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), a Catholic priest (John Hurt), and her Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) act as brushstrokes on a canvas depicting the kaleidoscopic Jackie. Despite being traumatized and reeling with grief, Mrs. Kennedy knew she needed to complete her husband’s story, to make him a legend and consolidate his legacy – and hers.

27454-jackie_2____william_grayThe compelling portrait of America’s Queen is achieved magnificently also through the  artful way cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine conveys a feeling of nostalgia. Black and white excerpts recreate the original television special Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy that was broadcast on CBS, NBC and ABC. The make-believe-vintage footage gradually blends in with color saturated scenes, as the texture of the images become crisper and lead us back to the preparation of the President’s funeral.

Intensely private and inscrutable, the most famous woman of the modern era was a mystery to the masses. Jackie, as well as a rumination on faith, history, mythology and loss, is the story about a queen without a crown, who lost both her throne and her king; but was very sagacious in re-writing her own fairytale and sharing it with the world.

For this purpose a song becomes emblematic, “Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot” from the musical Camelot  (the lyrics were the work of JFK’s classmate at Harvard, Alan Jay Lerner). The First Lady – with a former experience in journalism – came up with the greatest story of her career. The one where she compared the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, to the presidency of her husband.

Jackie, by retelling the parable used by Mrs. Kennedy, stages a message that resonates profoundly today during the epoch of social media exposure. There is a thin line that divides truth from performance. A public image can acquire greater authenticity than the real person. And the premature death of the 35th president of the United States, turned him into a larger than life heroic figure. Just as Jacqueline Kennedy told White “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.”

Larraín thusly invigorates the idea that behind every great President there is a great First Lady. Along these lines, Jackie’s orchestration of JFK’s public image was crucial in making him the most admired American president of the post-World War II period.

4 Stars

Good Things

  • Portman in Her Best Role Since Black Swan
  • Enriches Our Understanding of a Legendary American Woman
  • Reminds Moviegoers of a Time When American Politics Was Less Depressing

Bad Things

  • Thor and Loki Do Not Not Appear
  • There will never be another Camelot