UK 1998, 122 minutes
Jacqueline du Pré was child prodigy who was playing the cello at an age when most kids are struggling with the triangle. She became one of the best, and certainly one of the most popular, musicians of our time, celebrated for the joie de vivre she brought to the music as well as for her technique. She completed the fairy tale by marrying Daniel Barenboim, as gifted and successful as herself. Only to be struck down by multiple sclerosis at the age of 27 and to live for another 14 years, her career and her life ruined, her immense talent lodged with her useless.
That’s the story everyone knows. But she wasn’t the only child in the family, or even the only genius. After her death her brother Piers and sister Hilary published a book, A Genius in the Family, that painted a different picture and upset many of Jackie’s fans. Jackie’s success was based on a desire to keep up with her possibly even more talented sister. Jackie got the breaks, particularly the encouragement of good teachers, whereas Hilary’s teacher stunted her to the point where she gave up performing. Jackie worked obsessively, sacrificing herself to her music, but also sacrificing others to her needs.
Hilary and Jackie is based on this book, although it reduces Pier’s role to a minimum and concentrates on the relationship, rivalry and love between the sisters. It’s well written (a lot better than the book) and superbly acted, particularly by the two leads, and benefits from insights only family members would have and from a refusal to soften or over-dramatise its material. Jackie was not a saint, perhaps not even a nice person, and the film succeeds in showing this without losing our sympathy or undervaluing her achievement.
Like Shine, the story of pianist David Helfgott which we showed in a previous season, this film is about genius, its physical and emotional demands, and its loss. Genius consists of talent, endless hard word, luck, encouragement, and an obsessive focus (which Helfgott perhaps lacked) on ME, ME, ME! Genius devours you; to lose it is to lose yourself. Perhaps Hilary was the lucky one, after all.
Jaqueline du Pré: Emily Watson
Hilary du Pré: Rachel Griffiths
Daniel Barenboim: James Frain
Kiffer Finzi: David Morrissey
Derek du Pré: Charles Dance
Iris du Pré: Celia Imrie
Piers du Pré: Rupert Perry Jones
Director: Anand Tucker
Producers: Andy Paterson, Nicholas Kent
Screenplay: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Photography: David Johnson
Music Supervisor: Barrington Pheloung
Solo Cellist: Caroline Dale