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Hilary and Jackie is a 1998 Britishmarker biographical film directed by Anand Tucker. The screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce is based on the memoir A Genius in the Family by Piers and Hilary du Pré, which chronicles the life and career of their sister, cellist Jacqueline du Pré. The film attracted controversy and criticism for allegedly distorting details in Jacqueline's life, and Hilary du Pré publicly defended her version of the story.


The film is divided into two sections, the first telling events from Hilary's point of view and the second from Jackie's. It opens with Hilary and Jackie as children being taught by their mother to dance and play musical instruments, the cello for Jackie and the flute for Hilary. Jackie does not take practicing seriously at first, but when she does, she becomes a virtuoso, quickly rising to international prominence. Marriage to pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim follows. Hilary, on the other hand, plays in a community orchestra and marries Christopher Finzi, the son of composer Gerald Finzi. The film, though focused primarily on Jacqueline, is ultimately about the relationship between the two sisters and their dedication to one another; to help Jacqueline through a nervous-breakdown, Hilary consents to Jacqueline having an affair, in the interest of therapy, with her husband.

The last quarter of the movie chronicles in detail the last fifteen years of Jacqueline's life, during which she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and loses control of her nervous system, becomes paralyzed, goes deaf and mute, and finally dies. The film ends with Jacqueline's ghost standing on the beach where she used to play as a child, watching herself and her sister frolicking in the sand as little girls.

Production notes

Scenes were filmed in the Blue Coat Schoolmarker, the County Sessions Housemarker, George's Dockmarker, St. George's Hallmarker, and the Walker Art Gallerymarker in Liverpoolmarker. Additional scenes were filmed at the Royal Academy of Musicmarker and Wigmore Hallmarker in Londonmarker, and most interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studiosmarker in Surreymarker. Brithdir Mawr, an ancient house in North Wales, was used for location shots of Hilary's house.

Classical pieces performed in the film include compositions by Edward Elgar, Joseph Haydn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Matthias Georg Monn, Georg Friedrich Händel, Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Antonín Dvořák. Jacqueline du Pré's cello in the movie was played and synchronized to Emily Watson's movements by Caroline Dale.

The film was budgeted at an estimated US$7,000,000. It grossed $4,874,838 in the US and £666,874 in the UK.

The film was rated R for language and sexuality, requiring those under age 17 to be accompanied by an adult, by the MPAA in the US, and given a 15 certificate, restricting anyone under age 15 from seeing the film in a cinema, by the British Board of Film Classification.

To avoid litigation from Daniel Barenboim, the film has never been released in Francemarker.

Principal cast

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film "one of the most insightful and wrenching portraits of the joys and tribulations of being a classical musician ever filmed" and "an astoundingly rich and subtle exploration of sibling rivalry and the volcanic collisions of love and resentment, competitiveness and mutual dependence that determine their lives," and added, "Hilary and Jackie is as beautifully acted as it is directed, edited and written."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described it as "an extraordinary film [that] makes no attempt to soften the material or make it comforting through the cliches of melodrama."

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann stated, "Watson is riveting and heartbreaking. Assisted by Tucker's elegant direction and Boyce's thoughtful, scrupulous writing, she gives a knockout performance."

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said, "The sense of period, of ungainly English pride, is funny and acute, but the movie mislays its sense of wit as the girls grow up. The nub of the tale... feels both overblown and oddly beside the point; it certainly means that Tucker takes his eye, or his ear, off the music. The whole picture, indeed, is more likely to gratify the emotionally prurient than to appease lovers of Beethoven and Elgar."

Entertainment Weekly rated the film A- and added, "This unusual, unabashedly voluptuous biographical drama, a bravura feature debut for British TV director Anand Tucker, soars on two virtuoso performances: by the rightfully celebrated Emily Watson . . . and by the under-celebrated Rachel Griffiths."

Rana Dasgupta wrote in an essay about biographical films that "the film’s tagline – 'The true story of two sisters who shared a passion, a madness and a man' – is a good indication of its prurient intent. The book's moving account of love and solidarity, whose characters are incomplete and complex but not "mad", is rejected in favour of a salacious account of social deviance."

Controversy and protests

Although the film was a critical and box-office success, and received several Academy Award nominations, it ignited a furor, especially in London, centre of du Pre's performing life. A group of her closest colleagues, including fellow cellists Mstislav Rostropovich and Julian Lloyd Webber, sent a bristling letter to The Times.

Clare Finzi, Hilary du Pré's daughter, charged that the film was a "gross misinterpretation, which I cannot let go unchallenged." Students from the Royal College of Musicmarker picketed the premiere, although this was later revealed by the London Evening Standard to have been a publicity stunt set up by the film's publicity company. Barenboim — who has always teetered on the edge of villainy in du Pré-revering quarters — said, "Couldn't they have waited until I was dead?"

Hilary du Pré, writing in The Guardian, said; "At first I could not understand why people didn't believe my story because I had set out to tell the whole truth. When you tell someone the truth about your family, you don't expect them to turn around and say that it's bunkum. But I knew that Jackie would have respected what I had done. If I had gone for half-measures, she would have torn it up. She would have wanted the complete story to be told." The New Yorker reports her as saying, “When you love someone, you love the whole of them. Those who are against the film want to look only at the pieces of Jackie’s life that they accept. I don’t think the film has taken any liberties at all. Jackie would have absolutely loved it.”

Awards and nominations

See also


  1. "The truth about our wonderful sister Jackie," The Guardian, January 21, 1999
  2. "Du Pré sister defends film," The Guardian, January 21, 1999
  4. New York Times review
  5. Chicago Sun-Times review
  6. San Francisco Chronicle review
  7. The New Yorker review
  8. Entertainment Weekly review
  9. "The next idea of the artist," essay by Rana Dasgupta about Beethoven, du Pre and biographical films
  10. National Review review
  11. "The Talk of the Town: The Pictures," The New Yorker, February 8, 1999

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