Hilary and Jackie - rated - TEPID

Am I extraordinarily cranky lately? My recent reviews have been pretty harsh (see Love & Death on Long Island, Bulworth.) . On the other hand, recent films such as The Truman Show, Happiness and The Thin Red Line have given me such joy. But Hilary and Jackie?

Anand Tucker, the film's director, set himself a hard task. He was working from the book A Genius in the Family by Hilary and Piers DuPré, which is written from the perspective of brother and sister. The structure of the film attempts to comepensate for this by dividing into two sections - the first Hilary, the second Jackie. But of course the source material is all Hilary (and, it seems, surprisingly little Piers). So the Jackie section of the film feels false. It might have been a smart idea to tell Hilary's story, and then reprise the story from Jackie's point of view, but the theory doesn't quite come off in practice. There are a few revelations in the second section of the film, but not enough to compensate for the downside of repeating the material.

This is not helped by the showy performance of Emily Watson as Jackie. Emily was so terrific in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves.. Here she just rolls her eyes, holds out her arms like a child wanting to be picked up, and thrashes her beautiful blonde wig about (this hair is seriously good - it deserved an Academy Award nomination of its own!). I never believed she was playing the cello, and there was never any true musical rapture. To me it seemed a performance based on mannerism.

In contrast, Rachel Griffith is superb. Her performance is subtle, restrained, intelligent and penetrating. When she plays the flute, she makes it her own. Hilary is a difficult role to play, and Rachel does it with finesse: she gives a tremendous dignity to a woman whose life is in many ways defined by what it lacks.

Of the supporting cast, Celia Imrie's performance as Iris du Pré was one of the few which rang true for me. And what a shock it was to discover that it was Nyree Dawn Porter who played Dame Margot Fonteyn! She is only on-screen for a couple of moments, and yet she makes a most chilling impression. Bill Paterson has a pivotal role as Jackie's cello teacher, and he too puts his firm stamp on the role.

The music in the film is all-pervasive, and there is quite a lot of variety in it. However, Elgar's Cello Concerto is overused (more repetition) and I got to the point where I was predicting when it would appear again.

Visually, the film was occasionally interesting. The early scenes, which take place on a beach when the sisters are little, were promising. There were some interesting visual techniques used there, and in some of the scenes at Kiffer and Hilary's cottage in the country. But the beach scenes, though good to look at, weren't convincing. The little girls were too abviously "acting" in those scenes, and the device with the mystery woman (with long blonde hair and dressed in a purple 70s fur lined coat - guess whothat might be?) just didn't come off. Also, the director is a little too fond of circling with the camera. This happened so often (around the young girls, around Jackie in performance, around Jackie and Danny in bed) that I felt dizzy. But one magnificent scene stands out - when Jackie plays in concert against a red wall, it's just fabulous. In this scene the sound is used to indicate Jackie's pain, and it is very effective indeed.

Costumes in this film were designed by the very talented Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine). Here, she gives us beautiful gowns for Jackie's concerts, in bright, bright colours, but the rest of the costumes (particularly for the woman) were simply overpowering. I felt as if I were in a Powerhouse Museum history-of-fashion exhibit. You just couldn't take your eyes off the appalling ensembles these sisters wore. Sure, it was the 70s, but this was just cliché. Hell, I was around in the 70s: everybody had a few appalling items in their wardrobe, but nobody wore them all at once!

So am I unfair about this film? I don't think so. But then again, I saw the film in a theatre one afternoon with 40 weeping women. Somebody had to stand against the tide!