Several critics have praised Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis in this movie, especially her precise emulation of Jackie’s voice. Well, maybe. But all it did was remind me what an affected and annoying voice it was.
The film is loosely based on the first interviews Jackie gave after the assassination of her husband a matter of weeks earlier. She comes across as a hard-headed woman determined to assert control over her murdered husband’s legacy, and we are invited to contrast this Jackie with the malleable, self-conscious First Lady who breathily showed off her stylish redecoration of the White House on TV.
Trouble is, Jackie comes across as a not particularly sympathetic character. In fact I found her downright unlikeable: bullying her hand-picked tame journalist, shouting like a fishwife at her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy when he tries to conceal troubling news from her, acting as though it’s a personal affront to her and her children and her husband’s memory that she has to move out of the White House to make way for the Johnsons.
And, while she might be forgiven a certain level of paranoia after Dallas, surely she would have at least considered the possibility that her husband’s killer was a crazed loner with a gun, rather than the amorphous ‘they’ to whom she unfailingly ascribes the blame not only for the assassination but for every associated misfortune and peripheral inconvenience.
At one stage she tries to draw a parallel between herself and an earlier presidential widow by remarking that when Mary Lincoln left the White House after HER husband’s assassination, she was poor and was left to fend for herself by an ungrateful nation. Someone – perhaps Robert Kennedy – assures her that such a fate won’t befall her, but at no stage does Jackie herself acknowledge that she had no money worries. Far from it – she was born into wealth and privilege and had married into even more of it. (She was always needlessly insecure and greedy about money. Let us not forget her own admission that she married Aristotle Onassis for the ‘protection’ of his vast wealth.)
The scenes re-enacting the assassination are powerfully re-created, but the rest of the time we are alone with this self-absorbed, self-pitying, spoilt rich harridan. And some very gloomy portentous music.
Perhaps the filmmakers had it in for Jackie, or perhaps my reaction to her as a personality is unfair and unwarranted. But it was hard-going, no two ways about it.