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Article: Hilary and Jackie

By Elaine Cassel

What accounted for Jackie du Pre's temperamental outbursts as a young adult? Was she a tortured genius or was she tormented by the neurological disease that ravaged her brain and body? Hilary and Jackie is the story of one of the greatest cellists of all time, and her sister, Hilary, who grew up in her shadow.

The brilliant young cellist Jacqueline du Pre took the world of classical music by storm, literally and figuratively, with her prodigious and passionate performances. Long hair flying, arms flailing, body moving with the music, her playing style was as eccentric as her personality. When she was diagnosed with the multiple sclerosis that would end her career at the age of 28, doctors suggested that her mood swings and eccentric behaviors in her young adult years might have been precursors of the crippling neurological disease.

Starring Emily Watson as Jacqueline and Rachel Griffiths as Hilary du Pre, Hilary and Jackie depicts Jackie's rapid ascent to fame and free-fall into tragedy and what it was like for her sister, Hilary, a talented flautist in her own right, to grow up in Jackie's shadow. Their mother, herself an accomplished pianist, encouraged and fostered each daughter's gifts, but as Jackie reached adolescence, her talent eclipsed Hilary's and the family put its limited resources into nurturing Jackie.

Taken from the book written by Hilary and Piers du Pre (Jackie and Hilary's brother), A Genius in the Family, the movie spans four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s. At the point in the movie when musical world pronounces Jackie as the greatest child prodigy of the 20th century, it presents events from both Hilary and Jackie's points of view. This structure allows us to see the sister's differing interpretations of events and perspectives on each other's lives. For instance, when Jackie was in the prime of her career, adored by fans, admired by world-renown musicians, and courted (and then married) by the handsome and gifted pianist Daniel Barenboim (played by James Frain), Jackie longed for the simplicity of Hilary's domestic life. Hilary, happy enough with her children and husband and her occasional concert engagements, sometimes resented the attention and acclaim that surrounded her sister and wondered if she might not have been in the spotlight but for the family focus on Jackie. Each sister thinks the other has the ideal life. And neither sees their world—or the world of the other—with the same perspective, demonstrating the psychological fact that no two people, even sisters in the same household, have the same reality.

Hilary and Jackie is much more than a window into the world of a child prodigy who became a legend in classical music and struggled with a cruel disease that sapped her talent in the prime of her life and career. It is also about two sisters, one's star eclipsed by the other, sibling love that transcends sibling rivalry, and family devotion and sacrifice—without which few prodigies would ever grace a concert stage. Hilary and Jackie, directed by Anand Tucker, also stars David Morrissey and Charles Dance. Keely Flanders and Auriol Evans play the sisters as children.

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