My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1998: Emily Watson in "Hilary and Jackie"

After having received her first Oscar nomination for her stunning film debut in Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson was again nominated two years later for her performance as world-famous cellist Jacqueline du Pré who died from multiple sclerosis in Hilary and Jackie.

The fact that Emily Watson received a Best Actress nomination for her work while Rachel Griffiths entered the Supporting race for her performance as Jacqueline’s sister Hilary does not reflect the structure of the movie but is a simple case of category fraud committed by Rachel Griffiths who is undoubtedly the co-lead in this story. Hilary and Jackie, as the title already suggests, is not the story of Jacqueline du Pré, but the story of both sisters, their relationship as children and grown-ups and how they depend on each other, as difficult as the times may be.

The movie begins with the two sisters as children – both are already very well trained in music. Jacqueline plays the cello while Hilary plays the flute. They are egged on to play these instruments by their over ambitious mother and it seems to be clear that Hilary is the one who combines both the talent and the discipline to make it far in the world. Since Hilary’s success means that she will spend a lot of time without her sister, Jacqueline is anxious to become just as good as Hilary so that she can be with her constantly. But very soon, Jacqueline’s virtuous playing begins to enthuse the critics and she gets the kind of career that seemed to have been destined for Hilary.

When Emily Watson takes over the role of Jacqueline, she quickly establishes the most important characteristics in her: her love for music and her love for her sister. This love is not a typically sisterly love – especially on Jacqueline’s side. It seems to be an obsession for her to be near Hilary. She is willing to almost destroy her closeness only to get even closer which goes so far that she asks Hilary to share her husband.

In the part of Jacqueline, Emily Watson never tries to get the audience’s sympathy. Instead, she more than once shows the unlikable, ugly, manipulative and temperamental sides of her character but her performance is so honest and believable that she always stays a fascinating person. Emily Watson never answers the question if Jacqueline’s sometimes impossible behavior is simply a part of her character or something that she does to get attention. When she suddenly talks with a strange accent and pretends not to realize it or when she is stealing the show in her last concert, in which she isn’t playing the cello anymore because she is too sick, by missing her cue – is she really this bubbly, charming woman or is this all part of a more scheming character? Does she really want to be in the center of attention when at the same time it seems that she doesn’t care the slightest bit about what others think of her?

The movie spends its first half concentrating almost exclusively on Hilary. It shows how she got married and lead a quiet life in the countryside but from time to time, Jacqueline drops by and changes the tone and rhythm of her life just as Emily Watson changes the tone and rhythm of the movie. She is a very domineering presence, a woman who knows that she is a star and has the talent to justify it. But Jacqueline also shows constant signs of mood swings, a love and hate for her life, a love and hate for her work and a love and hate for her sister with whom she wants to be as close as possible even if it means ruining their lives.

The second part of the story focuses on Emily Watson’s Jacqueline and she is given more chances now to deepen her character and show the sadness and loneliness in Jacqueline as she tours the world. It’s never clear who much her music means to her. Sometimes it seems that she only started it because she wanted to please her mother and be close to her sisters, sometimes it seems that it is her whole life. Emily Watson never turns Jacqueline into a diva when she portrays the difficult side of this woman but her delicate features that are so different from her fierce determination as an actress create a woman who seems more like a little girl who wants all the things her sister has while at the same time she wants to have even more. It always remains a very intimate portrayal that could have gone extremely over-the-top but Emily Watson is wise enough to focus on the inner trouble and conflicts in Jacqueline and not go for grand gestures or larger-than-life emotions.

Emily Watson also deserves some credit for the performances she gives on the stage. Her way of playing the cello, her body movements, the look on her face all suggest a real and determined artist who has grown up with music, who lives music. And the final parts of her performance when the illness takes over Jacqueline’s life, surely give Emily Watson the chance for a real tour-de-force as she combines technical brilliance with heartbreaking emotions.

It’s a difficult and hard-to-understand performance by Emily Watson that seems to pose more questions than give answers but it’s a fascinating and unique characterization that dominates and controls the movie for which she gets


Robert said...

Ah, the real Jaqueline Dupre was such an interesting woman and such a brilliant musician. I love Emily Watson, I'm going to go watch this film ASAP! haha

Fritz said...

It's definetly worth seeing but don't expect a typical biography!

Anonymous said...

Why was Rachel Griffiths allowed to submit for supporting but Geena Davis wasnt for Thelma and Louise?

Fritz said...

a) Geena Davis plays clearly a lead character

b) back then, when two people of the same gender, had leading roles in the same movie they would also enter the same category. Today, usually one of them goes supporting to secure nominations for both (see Hilary and Jackie, Notes on a Scandal, Brokeback Mountain)