DI­REC­TOR Pablo Lar­raín CAST Natalie Port­man, Peter Sars­gaard, Billy Crudup, John Hurt

PLOT In the days fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of JFK, his wife Jackie (Port­man) bat­tles with her pri­vate grief and her de­ter­mi­na­tion to make sure that her hus­band’s life is re­mem­bered as it should be — and she’s re­mem­bered along with him.

WHY DO WE re­mem­ber Jackie Kennedy? The men­tion of her name still evokes im­ages of the per­fect First Lady, ever cam­era-ready, a fash­ion plate, cool and poised by the Pres­i­dent’s side. Or the darker vi­sion of a grainy shock of in­con­gru­ous pink crawl­ing across the back of a limou­sine as her hus­band lay dy­ing on the back seat, his skull shot open by Lee Har­vey Oswald. We re­mem­ber her vis­ually, yet what did she do? Pablo Lar­raín’s in­sight­ful biopic draws her as a woman whose pur­pose was to frame his­tory. Not to cre­ate it in any po­lit­i­cal sense, but to pack­age it for the peo­ple, to make it mem­o­rable.

Jackie’s time­line cuts across just a small num­ber of days. It be­gins a few weeks af­ter JFK’S as­sas­si­na­tion, with Jackie (Port­man) invit­ing a re­porter (Crudup) to her home to in­ter­view her. She’ll only al­low him to print quotes she ap­proves, in­sist­ing af­ter a sob­bing ac­count of watch­ing her hus­band die, “I hope you don’t for one sec­ond think I’ll al­low you to pub­lish that.” Then we cut back and forth across the days just be­fore her hus­band’s mur­der to his grand spec­ta­cle of a fu­neral.

It’s only a brief part of Kennedy’s life but it’s enough to show a com­plex per­son. It de­picts a woman who is per­form­ing at almost all times. She knows what the public wants from her — some­thing like Amer­i­can roy­alty when her hus­band is alive; a sym­bol of the na­tion’s grief af­ter his death — and she means to give it. She’s not em­bar­rassed by her be­lief in the im­por­tance of im­age. Jackie’s pet project of restor­ing the White House in­te­ri­ors is laughed at, but she be­lieves the Pres­i­dent’s home should live up to the public’s im­pres­sion of it. She is ridiculed for mak­ing her hus­band’s fu­neral as huge a spec­ta­cle as Lin­coln’s, de­spite the dif­fer­ence in the two Pres­i­dents’ achievements, but she be­lieves the Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve to have their grief writ large. As Noah Op­pen­heim’s per­cep­tive screen­play says, Jackie came to fame in a time when tele­vi­sion made mod­ern his­tory a vis­ual record, not a writ­ten one, and she knew how to present that. It’s not sug­gested Jackie’s mo­ti­va­tions are en­tirely for the coun­try. Not a bit. There’s a self­ish­ness to her de­sire not to have her mo­ment fade to an his­tor­i­cal foot­note, to have her hus­band be a Lin­coln, not a James Garfield, but it’s a hu­man self­ish­ness. It makes Jackie a per­son, not an icon.

This com­pli­cated char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion asks for a com­pli­cated per­for­mance and Natalie Port­man gives the best of her ca­reer. She has Jackie’s pre­cise vow­els and stiff, Step­ford walk, but this isn’t im­i­ta­tion. She shows the steel and fragility un­der the sur­face of a woman who can stand up to the govern­ment to de­mand the fu­neral she wants, but also stag­ger around the White House drunk­enly try­ing on all her old gowns in an ef­fort to con­trol things in the only way she knows how, by de­cid­ing how they will look. Shot in almost con­stant close-up, per­haps to con­vey just how closely Jackie was watched, Lar­raín doesn’t give Port­man a sec­ond to re­lax. You couldn’t avert your eyes if you wanted to.

There’s a mo­ment when Jackie says, “The peo­ple on the pages of his­tory books be­come more real to us than those who stood be­side us.” Film does much the same. Whether this is an ac­cu­rate por­trait of the woman or not, Jackie brings its sub­ject to vivid life. You will re­mem­ber her.

VER­DICT Jackie does what the very best biopics should: it makes you view some­one you’ve seen count­less times as if you were see­ing them anew.

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