Hilary and Jackie

UK 1998

Reviewed by Nick Kimberley


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Encouraged by their mother Iris, Hilary and Jacqueline du Pré develop precocious musical talents. Hilary is invited to play in a children's concert and insists Jackie join in. But when Jackie disrupts rehearsals, Iris angrily says she must learn to play as well as Hilary. Jackie is soon attracting more attention as a player than Hilary, and makes a prestigious concert debut.

Jackie's success undermines Hilary's confidence, but when Kiffer asks Hilary to play with his orchestra, she agrees. The two fall in love and marry. Jackie falls in love with pianist Daniel Barenboim, converts to Judaism and marries him, but is unhappy. While visiting Hilary, Jackie announces she wants to sleep with Kiffer. Daniel makes an unsuccessful attempt to rescue their marriage. After he leaves, Hilary encourages Kiffer to sleep with Jackie, although it does little for anyone's peace of mind.

Flashbacks now show events from Jackie's point of view. She meets Daniel, and they begin playing together. Signs of Jackie's multiple sclerosis emerge until finally, after a performance conducted by Daniel, she can't stand up to acknowledge the applause. She spends time in hospital, where the dancer Margot Fonteyn offers Jackie her flat to recuperate in. Daniel, now artistic director with the Orchestre de Paris, visits London less and less frequently. Confined to a wheelchair, Jackie plays tambourine at a children's concert. Hilary and Jackie are close again, but driving back from visiting Jackie with their brother Piers, Hilary hears the radio announcement of Jackie's death at the age of 42.


The cellist Jacqueline du Pré was one of the most talented musicians Britain has produced in the last 50 years. Talented enough that for some European and American writers she alone gave the lie to the myth that Britain was "a land without music". And it's certainly true that, in 60s Britain, she seemed to embody a passion and a joie de vivre not always apparent in the world of classical music. Her success was instant and meteoric; the illness that killed her brought her playing career to an end when she was only 27.

A Genius in the Family, on which Frank Cottrell Boyce (Butterfly Kiss, Welcome to Sarajevo) based his screenplay for Hilary and Jackie, is an often painfully underwritten book in which Hilary and her brother Piers take turns to tell the story of growing up in sister Jackie's shadow. The film acknowledges that Hilary's is the more gripping story by all but writing Piers out of the plot. In this, he is no more than an agreeably grinning buffoon, semi-detached from the emotions which seethe beneath the prim demeanours of the women around him. Similarly, the du Prés' father retreats into the background, although in the book his illness, barely mentioned in the movie, provides an anguished counterpoint to Jackie's multiple sclerosis. His stroke serves only to occasion Jackie's angry accusation that he's trying to upstage her.

These are all acceptable, even welcome changes. Any movie that attempted to replicate the emotionless monotone of the du Prés' prose would be dull indeed, and by narrowing the focus to the relationship between the two sisters, Hilary and Jackie undoubtedly locates the heart of the matter. In the process it gives us a kind of Amadeus for English suburbia, with Hilary playing Salieri to the extravagantly gifted but tortured Mozart of Jacqueline du Pré. Yet where the Salieri of Amadeus (not the historical figure) was an embittered inferior trying to grasp the nature of Mozart's genius, Hilary is a decent soul repeatedly put upon by Jackie's spoiled behaviour. Music doesn't have much in the way of healing power here, and Jackie's genius only makes her and everyone else unhappy. Of course there's a long history of movies depicting the gifted who are brattish and unhappy - in fact these seem to be the very qualities by which cinema defines genius.

But if the film predictably fails to get a grip on what 'genius' might be, it first does a decent job of making sense of the hard work without which talent means little. It then illustrates the slow and disturbing progress of an illness that is particularly insidious in its attack on mind and body. Of course, it attacks genius and non-genius alike, but there is something inevitably poignant about the fact that Jacqueline du Pré was so young when she succumbed to the disease: had she not done so, she might now be at the height of her powers as a musician. It's these 'might-have-beens' that give Hilary and Jackie its dramatic power.

Sensibly, the movie chooses not to get involved in the controversy over whether or not Daniel Barenboim neglected du Pré during her illness - or rather, it suggests that he did, but without dwelling on the matter. If its decision to include only the briefest fragment of du Pré's playing seems an odd one (nearly all of the music was specially recorded), that at least steers it away from the fetishisation that has marked the cellist's posthumous career. Although music is at the heart of the film, it is not a film about music, but about an English middle-class family in suppressed emotional turmoil. If that limits its scope, its impact is increased by some finely measured performances. This is an actors' film, and the actors are actually rather good. That may not make it a fashionable movie, but it's not a negligible achievement.


Andy Paterson
Nicolas Kent
Frank Cottrell Boyce
Based on the book A Genius in the Family by
Hilary du Pré
Piers du Pré
Director of Photography
David Johnson
Martin Walsh
Production Designer
Alice Normington
Music/Music Conductor
Barrington Pheloung
©Intermedia Film Equities Limited and Film Four Ltd
Production Companies
Film Four and Intermedia Films present with the participation of British Screen and the Arts Council of England an Oxford Film Company production
Supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England
Developed with the support of the European Script Fund
Developed in association with the BBC
Executive Producers
Guy East
Nigel Sinclair
Ruth Jackson
Intermedia Films
Will Evans
Kathy Goodman
Tim Haslam
Paul Davis
Production Supervisor
Guy Tannahill
Production Co-ordinator
Patsy de Lord
Location Manager
David Pinnington
London Contact
Stephanie Collins
Post-production Co-ordinator
Tamara Syer
Assistant Directors
Rupert Ryle-Hodges
Guy Heeley
Phil Booth
Geoff Dibben
Jason Byrne
Script Supervisor
Diana Dill
Simone Ireland
Vanessa Pereira
ADR Voice:
Louis Elman
Script Consultant
Nick Drake
Camera Operator
Nick Schlesinger
Steadicam Operator
Howard J. Smith
Digital Matte Paintings
Andrew Garnett-Lawson
Special Visual Effects
Mill Film Ltd (London)
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Karl Mooney
Visual Effects Associate Producer:
Jeanette Volturno
Visual Effects Editor:
John Seymour
John Hardwick
Andrea Sholer
Mike Connolly
Special Effects
Evan Green-Hughes
Steve Breheny
Graphic Designer
Kevin Walker
Art Director
Charmian Adams
Set Decorator
Tricia Edwards
Costume Designer
Sandy Powell
Wardrobe Supervisor
John Scott
Lois Burwell
Pauline Heys
Chief Hairdresser
Lisa Tomblin
General Screen Enterprises
Sally Heath
Cello Soloist:
Caroline Dale
David Heath
London Metropolitan Orchestra
Jonathan Rees
The Philharmonia
Steve Mercurio
Jonathan Carney
Music Supervisor
Barrington Pheloung
Music Co-ordinator
Anthony Fabian
Music Editor
Bob Hathaway
Joel Iwataki
Mike Ross-Trevor
Music Research/Preparation
Matthew Slater
"Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in E Minor Opus 85" by Edward Elgar, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, cello: Jacqueline du Pré, Philadelphia Orchestra; "You Really Got Me" by Raymond D. Davies; "Tango" by/performed by Ian Jones
Extracts from
"Toy Symphony", "Trio for Piano, Violin and Violoncello in D Major", "Concerto for Violoncello in D Major", "Concerto for Violoncello in C Major" by Joseph Haydn; "Prelude" & "Gigue" from "Suite No. 1 in G Major", "B Minor Suite for Flute, Strings and Continuo", "Gavotte" from "Suite No. 6 in D Major", "Prelude" from "Suite No.3 in C Major" by Johann Sebastian Bach; "Sonata for Violoncello in F Major" by Johannes Brahms; "Sonata for Violoncello and Piano in A Major" by César Franck; "Concerto for Violoncello in G Minor" by Matthias Georg Monn; "Sonata for Violoncello in G Minor" by George Frideric Handel; "Concerto for Violoncello in E Minor" by Edward Elgar; "First Fantasy Piece for Violoncello and Piano Opus 73" by Robert Schumann; "Trio in B Flat Major 'Archduke'" by Ludwig van Beethoven; "Concerto for Violoncello in B Minor" by Antonín Dvorák
Sound Design
Nigel Heath
Julian Slater
Production Sound Mixer
David Crozier
Re-recording Mixers
Ray Merrin
Graham Daniel
Dialogue Editor
James Feltham
Kevin Taylor
Lionel Selwyn
Stan Fiferman
Pam Finch
Kevin Taylor
Robert Bailey
Caroline Dale
Steven Higgins
Ian Jones
Neil McLaren
Sue Lefton
Flute Teacher
Carol Little
Emily Watson
Jacqueline 'Jackie' du Pré
Rachel Griffiths
Hilary du Pré
James Frain
Daniel 'Danny' Barenboim
David Morrissey
Kiffer Finzi
Charles Dance
Derek du Pré
Celia Imrie
Iris du Pré
Rupert Penry Jones
Piers du Pré
Bill Paterson
cello teacher
Auriol Evans
young Jackie
Keeley Flanders
young Hilary
Grace Chatto
Nyree Dawn Porter
Dame Margot Fonteyn
Maggie McCarthy
Vernon Dobtcheff
Professor Bentley
Anthony Smee
BBC nabob
Delia Lindsay
tweedy woman
Linda Spurrier

Nick Haverson
Kika Mirylees
Pal Banda
Robert Rietti
Italian flunky
Tamsin Pike
harpsicord player
David Shimwell
man in suit
Peter Czajkowski
German admirer
Stella Maris
Spanish admirer
Carla Medonca
Spanish maid
Anna Barkan
Steven Atholl
bookish man
Heather Weeks
Ralph De Souza
Andrea Chaialton
Jon Rumney
Kate Hetherington
middle Jackie
Ariana Daykin
middle Hilary
Oliver Lee
baby Piers
Hayley James-Gannon
Melissa James-Gannon
Hilary's children
George Kennaway
German concert conductor
John Gough
Wigmore accompanist
Brian Perkins
radio announcer
members of the freelance orchestral section of The British Musicians' Union
The English Northern Philharmonia
Hallé Philharmonic Orchestra
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Jan Kaznowski and children from The Bedfordshire Chamber Music Course
Stephen Threlfall and pupils of Chetham's School of Music
on-stage orchestras
Film Four Distributors
10,994 feet
122 minutes 10 seconds
Dolby digital
In Colour
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011