Blessedly low on the cinematic starch that can stiffen disease pics
and classical music bio-pics alike, Hilary and Jackie has more kick than
Shine did two years ago, though we need to be fair. It's likely the earlier
film's success helped this stylish depressor get made, or at least pick
up the distribution it deserves. Though the title gives Hilary du Pre (Rachel
Griffiths) top billing, sister Jacqueline (Emily Watson) was the prodigy
developed into a renowned English cellist who produced music (said one critic) "that wept."
The struggle to nurture her talent took a degree of drive that her flutist sibling apparently didn't have, and Hilary opted for marriage and a family in the countryside. The sites grass there forever remained greener for Jackie, who from childhood on incessantly pressured herself to succeed professionally.
The siblings were rivals, but loving rivals, a relationship the movie makes clear from the beginning, thanks in part to good casting. Too many screen bios fail to get out of the gate because the child actors who portray the subjects in their formative years fail to make an impression. In this case, Keely Flanders (young Hilary) and Auriol Evans (Jackie) successfully prepare us for what's to follow - the kind of tone-setting that was, of course, one of Shine's strengths as well.
This is director Anand Tucker's first feature, but it seems confident and assured, with concert scenes framed and edited to their own potent rhythms. The screenplay bisects the story into "Hilary" and "Jackie" halves, enabling us to see the first hour's events from a different perspective in hour two. Some may shrug off this approach as a stunt, but a resourceful filmmaker has to do what's necessary to defuse built-in audience unfriendliness when a story is as downbeat as this one. Emotionally off-kilter enough to successfully demand sleeping rights with her sister's husband, Jackie has problems permanently compounded by the career-killing multiple sclerosis that ended her life at 43.
Watson and Griffiths made strong out-of-nowhere impressions in Breaking the Waves and Muriel's Wedding, respectively, and they've capitalized on their breakthrough roles with sturdy follow-up work. Hilary and Jackie is the kind of acting opportunity that can keep a performer's career going for years - if not with mainstream audiences (which would be their loss), then certainly with dazzled casting directors.
Oscar nominations could be forthcoming.
By Mike Clark, USA TODAY
Hilary and Jackie
[3.5 stars] out of four
Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Emily Watson, Keely Flanders, Auriol Evans
Director: Anand Tucker
Distributor: October Films
Rated: R for language and sexuality
© Copyright 1998 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.