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Emily Watson as Jacqueline du Pré

'Hilary and Jackie' chronicles a close-knit family relationship

Web posted on:
Wednesday, January 06, 1999 1:10:38 PM EST

From Correspondent Laurin Sydney

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The title -- "Hilary and Jackie" -- rings of American first ladies. The story, though, is one of British musical royalty.

Jacqueline du Pré turned classical music on its ear in the 1960s and 70s with her unusual cello-playing style. She made the cello glamorous, becoming an international star before disease destroyed her career.

"Jacqueline du Pré was a renowned concert cellist in England and then all around the world, who had a very stormy and passionate life and died of multiple sclerosis (in 1987)," says actress Emily Watson ("The Boxer"), who takes on the role of the cellist in the new motion picture from October Films.

Rachel Griffiths as du Pré's sister Hillary

The film tells du Pré's story by highlighting the two most important things in her life -- her cello and her sister, Hilary, played by Rachel Griffiths ("My Best Friend's Wedding").

"They're incredibly, incredibly close, kind of telepathically close," Watson says. "And once Jackie disappeared into the world of superstardom, she kind of starts displaying symptoms of MS (multiple sclerosis) and kind of really losing it. And she goes back to her sister and basically says, I want to sleep with your husband, which is ... pretty shocking."

No regrets

Even more shocking -- Hilary agrees to the request.

"I asked Hilary du Pré, the real Hilary du Pré, 'Do you regret it?'" Watson says. "And she said, 'I never would have forgiven myself if I hadn't done it for myself.' It was the most extraordinary act of sacrifice."

It's a universal story, says Anand Tucker, the male director who took on a tale of two sisters.

"I wish there were helicopters and explosions ... in it but there ain't," he says.

Music school on set

But there is a lot of music.

"I hate films about music," Tucker says. "And I've watched a lot of them and some are wonderful films. And there's always that moment sometimes when the actress or actor picks up the guitar or the violin and you know they ain't really playing."

So he made sure that wouldn't happen in "Hilary and Jackie."

"I had to learn to play the cello to concert standard," Watson says.

"At one point, I felt like we were running a music school," Tucker explains. "We had Emily practicing the cello and Rachel practicing the flute."

Aside from learning to play the cello, Watson had to capture that something extra that made Jackie du Pré a star.

"She's this amazing wildcat, you know, with her hair flying everywhere, incredibly passionate," the actress says.

Not exactly first lady-like, but very much a cello queen.

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