A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Hilary and Jackie, an awful title that implies a story about first ladies or at least frivolity, is instead the moving story of the legendary cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. It is equally, and perhaps even more beautifully, the story of her sister Hilary. Directed by Anand Tucker and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce from a book by Miss Du Pre's sister and brother, it is filmed with such sensitivity and subtlety that the emotional wounds of this family become heartbreaking.

In a lyrical opening, two small girls play pretend on an open beach under a clear sky that holds the promise of eternal happiness. As the girls run through the dunes, chattering and reading each other's thoughts, we wish an unseen hand could protect them forever in their innocence.

At home, Jackie (Emily Watson) and Hilary (Rachel Griffiths) are developing their talents on cello and flute under the relentless coaching of their musician mother, Iris, who shepherds her daughters through an ever-widening circle of contests, but lacks the wisdom to guide them through the complexities of success. Jackie moves toward world renown, leaving Hilary, merely a fine flautist, in her shadow. Director Tucker handles the interplay between the girls with a delicacy that allows us to understand both of them.

At the moment of Hilary's greatest sorrow, when she has failed her examination, conductor Kiffer Finzi (David Morrissey) dives into her life with high spirits that stun her family, which is cowering in the conflicts and emotional upheavals of Jackie's success. Mr. Morrissey gives a lilting performance as the man who adores Hilary and offers his hand in a new beginning away from the tyranny of her sister's demanding presence.

As this appealing pair builds a family life in the country, the message hangs in the air: "There goes the flute." On the other hand, Jackie, the realized musician, travels throughout the concert capitals of the world, thoroughly isolated by new languages and by the platitudes that come her way after the music stops. While her life continues in coldly alien hotel rooms, her emotional stability erodes, her new liaison with Daniel Barenboim (James Frain) is troubled, and she eventually begins the descent into multiple sclerosis.

Emily Watson, who has endured and triumphed in one of the more grisly roles in recent movies (Breaking the Waves), is excellent as the tortured genius and effective in making us understand the damage that unbalanced brilliance so often inflicts on the people within breathing distance. But the emotional force of this movie emanates from the superb acting of Rachel Griffiths as Hilary. It is rare to see such power in the eyes and expressions of an actor, unusual to sense both her torment and the inner wisdom to deal with it. Perhaps hers is that perfect actor's moment that comes when the director has a delicate touch, the script is authentic, and the cast rises like a perfect chord to the challenge.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running time : 2h0m

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