In fact it was not, as the book had not yet been written; an 'Inside Film' programme, handed out at early showings of the film quotes screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce as saying, "Hilary was working on the book at the same time as I was working on the film ... it was at a very early stage when we were doing the script." The film was instead based on conversations with Hilary and Piers; unlike the book it does not claim to be the true story, and contains some made-up incidents. This is important, as the film attracted controversy and criticism for allegedly distorting details in Jacqueline's life, although Hilary du Pré publicly defended her version of the story.
Rachel Griffiths was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Emily Watson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The film is divided into two sections, the first telling events from Hilary's point of view and the second from Jackie's. It opens with Hilary and Jackie as children being taught by their mother to dance and play musical instruments, the cello for Jackie and the flute for Hilary. Jackie does not take practising seriously at first, but when she does, she becomes a virtuoso, quickly rising to international prominence. Marriage to pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim follows.
Hilary, on the other hand, plays in a community orchestra and marries Christopher Finzi, the son of composer Gerald Finzi. The film, though focused primarily on Jacqueline, is ultimately about the relationship between the two sisters and their dedication to one another; to help Jacqueline through a nervous breakdown and in the interest of therapy, Hilary consents to Jacqueline having an affair with her (Hilary's) husband.
The last quarter of the movie chronicles in detail the last fifteen years of Jacqueline's life: she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, loses control of her nervous system, becomes paralysed, goes deaf and mute, and finally dies. The film ends with Jacqueline's spirit standing on the beach where she used to play as a child, watching herself and her sister frolicking in the sand as little girls.Rachel Griffiths as Hilary du Pré
Emily Watson as Jacqueline du Pré
James Frain as Daniel Barenboim
David Morrissey as Christopher Finzi
Charles Dance as Derek du Pré
Celia Imrie as Iris Greep du Pré, Hilary and Jackie's mother
Rupert Penry-Jones as Piers du Pré
Bill Paterson as William Pleeth
Nyree Dawn Porter as Margot Fonteyn
Vernon Dobtcheff as Professor Bentley
Helen Rowe as Instrumentalist
Keeley Flanders as Young Hilary
Auriol Evans as Young Jackie
Scenes were filmed in the Blue Coat School, the County Sessions House, George's Dock, St. George's Hall, and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Additional scenes were filmed at the Royal Academy of Music and Wigmore Hall in London, and most interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studios in Surrey. Brithdir Mawr, an ancient house in North Wales, was used for location shots of Hilary's house.
Classical pieces performed in the film include compositions by Edward Elgar, Joseph Haydn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Matthias Georg Monn, Georg Friedrich Händel, Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Antonín Dvořák. Jacqueline du Pré's cello in the movie was played and synchronised to Emily Watson's movements by Caroline Dale.
In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film "one of the most insightful and wrenching portraits of the joys and tribulations of being a classical musician ever filmed" and "an astoundingly rich and subtle exploration of sibling rivalry and the volcanic collisions of love and resentment, competitiveness and mutual dependence that determine their lives." He went on to say "Hilary and Jackie is as beautifully acted as it is directed, edited and written."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described it as "an extraordinary film [that] makes no attempt to soften the material or make it comforting through the cliches of melodrama."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann stated, "Watson is riveting and heartbreaking. Assisted by Tucker's elegant direction and Boyce's thoughtful, scrupulous writing, she gives a knockout performance."
Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said, "The sense of period, of ungainly English pride, is funny and acute, but the movie mislays its sense of wit as the girls grow up. The nub of the tale... feels both overblown and oddly beside the point; it certainly means that Tucker takes his eye, or his ear, off the music. The whole picture, indeed, is more likely to gratify the emotionally prurient than to appease lovers of Beethoven and Elgar."
Entertainment Weekly rated the film A− and added, "This unusual, unabashedly voluptuous biographical drama, a bravura feature debut for British TV director Anand Tucker, soars on two virtuoso performances: by the rightfully celebrated Emily Watson . . . and by the under-celebrated Rachel Griffiths."
Rana Dasgupta wrote in an essay about biographical films that "the film's tagline – 'The true story of two sisters who shared a passion, a madness and a man' – is a good indication of its prurient intent. The book's moving account of love and solidarity, whose characters are incomplete and complex but not "mad", is rejected in favour of a salacious account of social deviance."
Although the film was a critical success, and received two Academy Award nominations, it ignited a furore, especially in London, centre of du Pre's performing life. A group of her closest colleagues, including fellow cellists Mstislav Rostropovich and Julian Lloyd Webber, sent a "bristling" letter to The Times in February 1999.
Clare Finzi, Hilary du Pré's daughter, charged that the film was a "gross misinterpretation, which I cannot let go unchallenged." Daniel Barenboim said, "Couldn't they have waited until I was dead?"
Hilary du Pré wrote in The Guardian, "At first I could not understand why people didn't believe my story because I had set out to tell the whole truth. When you tell someone the truth about your family, you don't expect them to turn around and say that it's bunkum. But I knew that Jackie would have respected what I had done. If I had gone for half-measures, she would have torn it up. She would have wanted the complete story to be told." Jay Fielden reported in The New Yorker that she'd said, "When you love someone, you love the whole of them. Those who are against the film want to look only at the pieces of Jackie's life that they accept. I don’t think the film has taken any liberties at all. Jackie would have absolutely loved it."Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Griffiths, nominee)
Academy Award for Best Actress (Emily Watson, nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Watson, nominee)
BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Watson, nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Sound (nominee)
BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music (nominee)
British Independent Film Awards for Best Director (winner)
British Independent Film Awards for Best Actress (Griffiths, nominee)
British Independent Film Awards for Best Actress (Watson, winner)
British Independent Film Awards for Best British Film (nominee)
London Film Critics Circle ALFS Award for British Actress of the Year (Watson, winner)
Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Watson, nominee)
Satellite Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture (Griffiths, nominee)
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role - Motion Picture (Watson, nominee)