REVIEW: MRS DALLOWAY, 1997
Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is a literary masterpiece, a pioneering example of the literary device known as the stream of consciousness. We traverse the narrative via the thoughts, feelings and ruminations of Woolf's memorable characters; notably Mrs Clarissa Dalloway, a rich politician's wife and hostess; Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked former WWI soldier; and Peter Walsh, a one-time suitor to Mrs Dalloway when they were young, now returned from India amidst a furor of emotional problems. Other minor characters drift through the narrative - Clarissa's husband Richard and their daughter Elizabeth, for example. The action all takes place during one day; a day when Mrs Dalloway decides to host a party, a day when Peter returns to London, a day when poor Septimus, driven to madness by his guilt and fears, commits suicide, rather than succumb to the care of the 'doctors' he has come to fear.
Woolf's novel is a mesmerising literary experience, one I always figured would be extremely difficult to tranlsate to screen, in view of the novel's focus on mental interiority. In this regard I have been proved wrong - and in truth, this should come as no surprise. Visual media has proven repeatedly that it can display and explain multiple states of mind, of being. So in the case of this adaptation, Marlene Gorris's direction does not suffer in this regard - we never struggle to follow the story, the differing consciousnesses of Woolf's characters as their paths inadvertently criss-cross. Instead the film is plagued with an abundance of more mundane problems, suffering for the main part due to a simple lack of suspense and filmic style. Indeed, the direction here is turgid. Character development is dull.
Casting choices are poor too. Vanessa Redgrave has a breathless low-key charisma and a luminous beauty which should have been ideal for the role of Clarissa. But she gives a lifeless performance here. Similarly Rupert Graves is a fine young actor, but is woefully miscast, exuding a natural health and bonhomie in lieu of the pathetic, shambolic, tortured man Septimus has become. Natasha McElhone is better as a younger Clarissa - she certainly matches Redgrave in height and class, but also carries off a gentle innocence. Even better is Lena Headey as a gloriously vibrant and sexy Sally, Clarissa's close friend with whom she shares a tender kiss.
London provides a nicely rendered backdrop, luxuriating in its period setting of 1923. Bourton, Clarissa's country home during her youth, is bucolic, enchanting, marred only by the scowling face of Clarissa's sullen suitor Peter, played with due misery by Alan Cox. Michael Kitchen is an older Peter, though we sense he is no wiser.
This film is a tepid affair, with little to be excited over, and little to hate. Eileen Atkins, a British actress with an extensive CV, and the creator of the UK period drama series The House of Elliot, penned the script here, but it is a stale and unadventurous offering.