‘Jackie’: Pablo Larrain Brings First Lady Story to Screen at Right Time

Jackie” began years ago, but its late-2016 debut makes this the right film at the right time.

The Fox Searchlight release looks at Jacqueline Kennedy in the week after her husband’s 1963 assassination. It’s about a woman trying to hold herself, her family, and the nation together, while working to define her husband’s legacy. It’s basically an emotional journey but the film has an added poignancy now: During a national crisis, with the world’s spotlight on her, here was someone in D.C. who was classy, private, and exhibited model behavior. After the past year, this all seems like science fiction, but it’s an important reminder of the not too distant past.

The project started with Noah Oppenheim, and is the first script from this veteran newsman (who is senior VP of NBC News and runs the “Today” show).

Oppenheim says, “I always look for a side to a story that’s never been told. There’s no more familiar story, to Americans at least, than the Kennedy assassination. [Jackie] has been peripheral in most stories.”

Darren Aronofsky got the script and talked with his “Black Swan” star Natalie Portman. When Aronofsky saw the 2015 “The Club,” he knew Pablo Larraín was the right director; the Chilean filmmaker agreed on condition that Portman starred.

Popular on Variety

Also on board was producer Juan de Dios Larraín, his brother; the two had collaborated on many other film projects, including the 2012 Oscar-nominated “No” and the December release “Neruda.” They create political films with a distinctive point of view. And they retain final cut of their projects.

Pablo Larraín told Variety, “The Warren Report describes the assassination of President Kennedy very graphically, and then it ends with a sentence ‘Jacqueline Kennedy, 34 years old, was sitting next to him.’ We took the same story but asked, ‘What if he was sitting next to her?’ She was only 34 and alone, so what was all of that like? We of course had a lot of respect for Jackie, and we were fascinated by this woman who created such brightness in such dark circumstances.”

The director suggested a key addition to the script: Inclusion of the 1962 CBS special, “A Tour of the White House With Mrs. John F. Kennedy.” Television was still a newish medium, but she understood its power to reach people. So the filmmakers re-created moments of the tour, along with backstage footage, all of it intercut with actual scenes from the original show.

The production filmed for 10 days in D.C. Otherwise, “Jackie” was filmed in Paris, where a team of artisans re-created the Kennedy era, including cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (who also shot this year’s “Captain Fantastic” and “Elle”); costume designer Madeline Fontaine, production designer Jean Rambasse, and editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.

Oppenheim says when he was researching the project, he came upon another example of Jacqueline Kennedy’s savvy: Connecting the JFK administration with “Camelot.”

JFK was in office less than three years, and his widow was determined his presidency wouldn’t be forgotten. She reached out to a journalist, unnamed in the film, but in fact it was Theodore White of Life, to talk, a week after the president’s death.

Oppenheim says, “She had the presence of mind to realize this was her last shot to determine how he would be remembered. She could have listed his policy accomplishments. She could have said, ‘He saved the world from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis.’ Instead, she referenced a Broadway musical and an Arthurian legend, and that’s what has stuck with the public for decades. She understood the power of this reference.”

As the former first lady says in the film, “Jack wasn’t naive, but he had ideals. Ideals he could rally others to believe in.”

To her, that’s what made it Camelot. And that’s why the message is a timely reminder in 2017.

More Film

  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke Joins Religious Drama 'Man of God'

    Pure Flix/Quality Flix has picked up international sales rights to religious drama “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, Aris Servetalis and Alexander Petrov. The rights are for sale at the Berlin Film Festival. “Man of God,” directed and written by Yelena Popovic. Producers are Alexandros Potter and Yelena Popovic through their company Simeon Entertainment and [...]

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content