1998, PG-13, 97 min. Directed by Marleen Gorris. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Natascha Mcelhone, John Standing, Alan Cox, Lena Headey, Sarah Badel.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 27, 1998
Cinematic soporific for the cynically reclined. Unalliteratively, it's a snooze. Adapted with an eye toward ennui by Eileen Atkins (from Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel) and directed with all the radiant flair of a soggy scone by Academy Award winner Gorris (Antonia's Line), Mrs. Dalloway transforms one of the masterpieces of 20th-century literature into a rambling series of misfires and who-gives-a-damn subplots that eviscerates the source material's breathless interior monologues and radiant prose. (On the plus side, it's a bold triumph for the forces of inertia.) Redgrave plays the aged Clarissa Dalloway, a woman who sacrificed her sense of adventure, self-worth, and all the other pertinent emotions when she married her politician husband Richard (Standing) and slipped quietly into the dull, safe tomb of the ruling class. She pines for the past but is helpless to recapture it; as the film opens, she's rushing about planning for that night's dinner party. In between gathering flowers, ordering mutton, and arranging the guest list, the film flashes back to the gaudy old days, and we're privy to Clarissa's downfall. It's here that we're introduced to young Peter (Cox), Clarissa's spontaneous, loving suitor before the fall, and her close friend and confidante Sally (Headey). This giddy, younger version of Clarissa is played by McElhone, who brings a vaporous charm to the role; you can tell she's falling for the suave, monied Richard (whom she meets a dinner party), and you (and Peter, and Sally) can also see it's clearly the wrong choice. Gorris intercuts these flashbacks with the parallel, though unrelated, story of Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked WWI vet whose spiraling descent into madness echoes Clarissa's past errings. Unfortunately, it detracts from the Dalloway storyline, and by the time the gibbering wreck plummets to his death atop a wrought-iron gate, you're relieved that at least that's over. Alas, Clarissa's plight continues, idly flip-flopping between then and now. The usually brilliant Redgrave plays her as a ghost in the material world, adrift and forlorn, but Gorris and co-conspirators Sue Gibson (cinematography) and writer Atkins have sucked the life out of Mrs. Dalloway's predicament more fully that any of Stoker's brood ever could. Shot through with burnished mahoganies and golden twilights, Mrs. Dalloway radiates the quiet hum of inescapable tedium; it's akin to sitting beneath a buzzy knot of high-tension power lines and playing solitaire with blank-faced cards. Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Ms. Gorris, I presume.