In her Oscar-nominated performance as Jackie Kennedy in “Jackie,” Natalie Portman has received the bulk of the film’s praise (rightfully so) for her in-depth portrayal of a public figure so mysterious to the general public. Still, one of the most notable aspects of her character — and a major factor in her performance — is the all-important Jackie Kennedy accent.
In an aptly exhaustive examination of the actor’s approach, Alex Abad-Santos over at Vox breaks down the historical significance of Jackie’s accent with the help of several linguistic experts. Not quite transatlantic and not quite New York, Kennedy’s accent was a product of her wealthy upbringing along with a childhood split between Southampton and Long Island. The driving force of her accent, though, came from her years in school in Manhattan. At this time, well-to-do students, much like Kennedy herself, were taught a mixture of American English with British English in order to encourage a seemingly posh dialect. Usually this was seen in the dropping of “r”s, referred to as non-rhotic affectation.
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Natalie Portman’s portrayal is rooted in a historical context, which is what makes aspects of her performance feel so unfamiliar. Jackie’s accent is not only an odd mixture of varied sources, inconsistent in the way only humans can be, but her accent exists in a time completely foreign to most people of a younger generation.
Ultimately though, Jackie’s accent was a careful creation specifically designed for the public. Though at least one expert in Vox’s article slights Portman’s delivery for losing some of Kennedy’s breathiness, there are reasons for the actor’s decision. (It’s also important to note this was a choice by Portman, not an oversight or inconsistency). Considering how Kennedy shied away from the public eye in the years since President Kennedy’s assassination, it’s extremely difficult to assess how she changed her speech when not in front of the camera.
The ultimate take-away is that Portman nailed the accent, along with all the intricacies that come with the complicated woman behind it. Who’s to say the creaky and more unladylike delivery was more accurate than face value, when there’s so little to find out about one of America’s most iconic women. Read more about Jackie Kennedy’s historic accent in the full article here.