Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bitesize Best Actress Oscar Profiles: Emily Watson

Emily Watson in “Hilary and Jackie”
Lost the 1998 Best Actress Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love”

Grade: ***

Anand Tucker’s “Hilary and Jackie” is a bit of a whirlwind, flitting between story strands, climates, and emotive outlets like there’s no tomorrow. The result is probably harsh on a film that has a lot of inter-sibling psyche to offer, but little real sense of the best way to present it. While it has clearly modelled its depiction of musical genius on the success of 1996’s “Shine,” the film managed only a pair of Oscar nominations – for its two leading actresses Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths.

Watson – who two years previous to this nomination found herself bound by Lars Von Trier’s psychosexual commentary – is again required to exercise perceived sexual deviances as real-life Cellist and all-around hooligan Jacqueline du Pré. As her older sister Hilary announces she is getting married, Jackie launches into an advocacy of a new form of contraceptive, and announces her desire for the pair of them to live together as two ‘free and easy’ single women. They’re on altogether different pages, and while Watson displays Jackie’s calculation a little too menacingly, you at least understand how this woman has become accustomed to getting her own way. The dynamic of the two sisters is skewed towards the confident younger, but just how confident is she? Watson’s overt passion mainly stems from the physicality of her movement and presence, and you eventually feel as if she and the film are challenging the character’s supposed power assertion: how much of Jackie is a childish façade?

And yet, as a fleeting breeze of a performance, Watson showcases the kind of self-satisfied flouncing that occasionally shows up to detract from even Keira Knightley’s best performances, much too gleeful a destroyer of Hilary’s serene setup than one feels she should be. Since the film is an adaptation of Hilary du Pré’s own novel this is certainly a biased account, but there is enough material for Watson to colour the motivations of Jackie a little more. The later aspects of the film, in which she’s required to chart the woman’s violent frustration at her deterioration of health, serve as a surprisingly impacting way of telegraphing Jackie’s inherent restlessness, and perhaps typify how Watson’s robustness an as Actress often atones for the sketchy metaphysical ideas implored into her character.


Alex in Movieland said...

I was really impressed when I first saw this film and the performance was so real to me. I had an uncle who died of the same disease when I was a teenager and I recognized the signs and the disease.

I'm not sure how it would play right now, but it felt quite special then, subjectively and not only.

but nothing could top her performance in Breaking the Waves. biggest snub ever, that one.

Cal said...

Sorry to hear that about your Uncle.

Like I said, I found the physicality of the performance a lot more interesting than her peering from corners, and playful glances etc.

I'm saving "Breaking the Waves" for my final 50 (probably 20) Actress nominees, which are already decided!

102 to go :-)

Alex in Movieland said...

so you've actually never seen Breaking the Waves... :)

but you did see Dancer in the Dark, right?

Cal said...

Of course! It's in my top ten of all time!