Natalie Portman does a pretty good job portraying former First Lady Jaqueline “Jackie” Kennedy. This is the kind of role where a lot of research has to take place, especially to get Jackie’s speech, mannerisms and style down pat. Not only that, but this is one of the most popular First Ladies of the United States, given that she and her late husband embodied the whole ‘Camelot’ appeal of the presidency. They had it all: looks, charisma, family pedigree, adorable children and power.
But on November 22, 1963, that all changed.
This film follows Jackie Kennedy, as she goes through life in the White House and immediately after the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy (played by Caspar Phillipson). Jackie is first seen in her home, days after the terrible tragedy. Jackie appears dignified and poised as if determined not to cry or show emotion while being interviewed by Presidential chronicler & journalist Theodore White (Billy Crudup). As the interview progresses, and the questions become deeper, Jackie reflects on the events leading up to the Dealey Plaza slaying and the fallout immediately afterward. She is notoriously adamant about keeping certain statements out of the press.
We find out that Jackie just wasn’t some young, good looking arm candy on the President’s arm. She went to school, to university, had a career as a journalist and amateur photographer before getting married to JFK. She had her own life – which is pretty fantastic, considering most First Ladies are supposed to support their husband’s career in the White House, while they pretty much have to give up their own if they had one prior to a life of politics. Jackie is seen strolling around the halls and rooms of the White House, giving a tour to the press and talking about the historical value and background to the various furnishings. She really had a keen eye for décor and an appreciation for the history of the White House. Jackie was credited with modernizing the White House and giving it a more ‘homely feel’ to it, all the while preserving many of the rooms to protect the political and historical integrity of the residence. She also became a fashion icon, with her glamorous jewelry and sophisticated dresses at galas and premieres. But there was so much more to the woman than her pearls and long gloves.
This was a woman in pain. This was a woman who lost her husband. Her grief was seen all over the world and felt by many internationally. Jackie is shown trying to be a pillar of strength to her children while feeling lost and wounded. Her brother-in-law, Bobby (played by Peter Sarsgaard), is seen trying to help put together the funeral. This was no easy task – and dealing with the assassination while trying to put on a brave face must have been a daunting ordeal. Jackie is shown to be in shock, surrounded by people, her famous pink suit stained with the blood and brains of her late husband. Imagine being surrounded by all these presidential staff members but feeling so alone, that you don’t know where to start and who to turn to. Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) is shown being sworn in as President, hours after the assassination. I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through everyone’s minds at that moment – the fear, shock, horror, grief and anxiety must have been palpable. I don’t think what is on the screen gives it justice.
As Jackie begins to come to terms with her grief and anger, she seeks out the family Priest, (portrayed by the late Sir John Hurt) and confides that she is angry, sad and fears for her children. The funeral arrangements were one of stress and tension but in the end, Jackie’s wishes were honored and they walk in a solemn procession, following the casket. Millions of Americans either watched from their television sets or stood on the side of the streets, bowing their heads and removing their hats, as the casket of their beloved President slowly made its’ way by.
The final moments of the film show Jackie thinking back to when her husband was alive, and the two of them are dancing at some White House gala and she looks radiant. Jackie was very much in love with her husband and to lose him so suddenly, and viciously, left her bereft in a way that no one could possibly understand.
We hear the lines from the movie “Camelot” – which was said to be JFK’s favorite musical and we see Jackie in the arms of her husband, content with her love for him and happy. Those were the happiest years of her life, never to be repeated.
Jackie tries its damnedest to capture it all. It debuts on HBO Saturday, August 26 at 8:00pm.