Jackie, Natalie PortmanChilean director Pablo Larraín has created a mesmerizing film (trailer) about 34-year-old former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during the unimaginably painful three days between the assassination of our 35th President and the funeral she orchestrated for him. A chief virtue of the film is that, although it is deeply moving, it is free of typically sentimental Hollywood touches. For Americans who remember those days, the film will unearth many painful memories.

The film purports to recreate the interview between Mrs. Kennedy (Natalie Portman)—caught as Rex Reed said “in the tragic headlights of history”—and an unnamed interviewer (Billy Crudup). In real life, the interviewer was prominent political journalist and historian Theodore H. White and, as in the movie, the interview took place only a week after the assassination for this issue of Life magazine. You can see his handwritten notes here.

Jackie appreciates the historical significance of her husband’s murder and is determined to give her husband his due. This is as much because she believes the office deserves it as it is to assure his legacy. She takes inspiration for the funeral from that of another assassinated leader, Abraham Lincoln. In the midst of her grief, she embarks on an exercise in myth-making in which the interviewer (again, as in real life) is complicit.

She has had her own accomplishments, of course. She has restored much of the White House with historical accuracy and invited cultural icons for performances there. Her aim, she says, was to make everything in the People’s House “the best” it could be. In the three compressed days before the funeral, it is sometimes as if she is moving underwater through an ocean of grief. Yet much is demanded of her: planning the funeral and selecting the burial site, celebrating her son’s birthday November 25, preparing to move out of the White House, and supporting her children.

Natalie Portman well captures Jackie’s breathy delivery and Peter Sarsgaard Robert Kennedy’s Boston accent. Both give excellent performances, allowing you to set aside differences in physical appearance. As a result, Caspar Phillipson, who bears such a striking resemblance to Jack Kennedy, is startling in his brief role.

Larrain assembled a strong supporting cast—principally, Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s secretary, Nancy Tuckerman; Billy Crudup as the interviewer; John Hurt (whom I did not at recognize at all) as the priest called in to counsel the distraught widow; and Richard E. Grant as her design consultant.

Next November 22, it will be 55 years since the assassination, and still the loss of innocence, the loss of Camelot, haunts us. Though this idyllic association was inspired by Jackie and first popularized by White, it took root in Americans’ minds because it seemed so right.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 87%; audiences: 73%.

JFK’s Birthplace

JFK, bassinet

The Kennedy family bassinet in the boys’ room (photo: Vicki Weisfeld)

In the middle of the block in a dense Brookline neighborhood of sturdy clapboard houses from 130 years ago—big porches, leaded windows, occasional turrets—is the home where John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. President, was born.

The house at 83 Beals Street was built in 1909, and Joseph and Rose Kennedy moved there in 1914. Three years later, John was born in the master bedroom, their third child. But the house had only three bedrooms, and in 1920 the growing family moved to a larger home nearby (still privately owned). The new house had a huge wraparound porch, which Rose wanted, because she firmly believed children should play outside every day.

After the President’s assassination, the Kennedy family repurchased the house, and Rose restored it to how she remembered it to be in 1917, the year of Jack’s birth. She then donated the house to the National Park Service. Rangers are on hand for tours, and there’s a small gift shop in the basement. The tour is enhanced by recordings of Rose describing the family’s life.

The house was close to many neighborhood features important to the family. There were good schools, Saint Aidan’s Catholic Church (now converted to condominiums), playgrounds, and the trolley line to Boston, where, at age 25, the elder Kennedy was president of the Columbia Trust Bank. The Park Service brochure offers a walking tour of the neighborhood that includes the Kennedy family church, school, and other sites. Click here for more information and event schedules.

You may recall that Jack was a sickly child, suffering numerous childhood illnesses, including scarlet fever. Rose read to him for hours as he recuperated, and among his favorite books was the story of King Arthur and Camelot.