Director Pablo Larraín makes a stunning debut with his first English film, “Jackie,” which is a history of one of America’s most popular first ladies.

“His 34-year-old wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, was sitting next to him. Next to him,” said Larraín of the impact of the “one bullet [that] passed though the president’s neck; a subsequent bullet, which was lethal, shattered the right side of his skull.” By his side was Jackie.

The story follows the newly widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) while she is being swiftly vacated from the White House. With Ladybird Johnson already perusing fabric samples, Jackie makes an observation of her life: “Nothing’s ever mine, not to keep?”

Larraín’s sturdy close-up take on history’s most iconic first lady, as told from her point of view, isn’t your standard biopic fluff. Its brilliance rests on the construction and unflinching character study that illuminates the conflicted and emotionally exhausted Jackie as she attempts to gain her own perspective, build her own legacy and, perhaps hardest of all, process her own grief, separating it from the agony that is shared by millions.

The truth is told in an unsentimental voice, sharing views on the subject’s thoughts on faith, marriage and self-image, delivered with complex layers by Natalie Portman, whose work in the lead role might soften the harsh tones.

The screenplay, by Noah Oppenheim, is remarkable and according to press materials is not “drawn from any credited sources,” which makes it refreshingly bold, especially in some of his liberties. Jackie was known for being fiercely private. In the screenplay, even at her most emotional, she is portrayed as a woman in control of her identity, switching her masks for press, public and associates, and wearing none only when truly alone.

One breathtaking and human sequence finds Jackie, finally alone in her wing of the White House, dancing through rooms, vodka in hand, popping pills, listening to the Broadway recording of “Camelot.” Cheeky jab!

Who was the real Jackie? We will never know, but the one imagined by the filmmakers is a version of Jackie Kennedy I wager she never counted on anyone ever seeing.

Marrying bits of history, like her famous television special, “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” filmed nearly two years before the events of Nov. 22, 1963, is one frame by which “Jackie” hangs its impressions of what her state of mind could have been like in the days immediately after her husband’s death.

Another interesting scene is an interview with Life journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), conducted a week after the event, during which a sternly composed, silver-tongued Jackie taunts him with false promises to reveal something new and authentic.

“Don’t think for one second I’m going to let you publish that,” she says sharply, seconds after giving a teary, sense-led recollection of the shooting itself.

Portman’s intricate performance is carefully layered. It might land her a second Oscar.

Finding time to mourn isn’t easy as Jackie attempts to deal with her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) and attend to the details of the funeral arrangements that she views as a critical opportunity to assert and cement JFK’s legacy—at a time when her advisors would like to keep the matter as low-key as possible.

Politics are cold, and amid the delicate negotiations over the appropriate course of action, few officials pause to consider how she is feeling.

In the often incendiary observations on celebrity and politics, it’s a heartfelt look at an individual grappling with grief at the highest level of scrutiny.

In Larraín’s hands we feel Jackie’s pain, and yet he never claims this character is the “real” Jackie. The film riveting from start to finish.