Hilary and Jackie is a disappointment due mainly to the many Really Bad Ideas Frank C. Boyce's screenplay throws up. One of them is splitting the film into two parts -- one detailing Hilary du Pre's experiences as a musician who settles down into a rosy domestic life, the other detailing her sister Jackie's career of international reknown as a cellist and her subsequent death from multiple sclerosis. This dual structuring might have worked, but the only payoff we get from this structure is a bit involving dirty laundry, of all things. The first hour (Hilary's part) is solid, as it examines the interesting and unexplored question of what it might be like to be an ordinary sibling to a celebrity. There's a fine and low-key performance from Rachel Griffiths as Hilary, who finds happiness in marriage with Kiffer Finzi (played by Keith Morrissey, whose brash performance makes it easy to see why Hilary falls in love with him).
When we switch to Jackie's story, however, the film goes for broke and becomes a bizarre, if fascinating, mess. There are some great scenes -- her last performance as a cellist is a miniature masterpiece of sound editing (even if it is overly similar to the nervous breakdown scene in Shine). But there are also some ludicrous concepts, such as scenes where Jackie talks to her cello. Her relationship with her instrument is handled so bizarrely, I wouldn't have been surprised if a scene showing Jackie literally f*cking her instrument had popped up. (Emily Watson's performance during the musical sequences indulges in more than enough metaphorical sex, as it is.) And the script does enough clumsy foreshadowing to make my eyes roll. Case in point - Jackie, as a kid, plays a toy drum during a performance of Haydn's Toy Symphony. Guess what her last performance on stage, when she's in the advanced stage of MS, is? Yep, you got it.
I'm beginning to fear now that Emily Watson's career is going to consist of a quixotic quest to top her work in Breaking the Waves. She has some fine moments, but she throws one too many quirks into her role -- what is up with that phony accent she puts on? Was that a bizarre affectation of Jacqueline du Pre's in real life?