[Film Review] Mrs. Dalloway (1997)

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Title: Mrs. Dalloway
Year: 1997
Country: UK, Netherlands, USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama Romance
Director: Marleen Gorris
Screenwriter Eileen Atkins
based on the novel by Virginia Woolf
Music: Ilona Sekacz
Cinematography: Sue Gibson
Vanessa Redgrave
Natascha McElhone
Michael Kitchen
Alan Cox
Rupert Graves
Amelia Bullmore
Lena Headey
John Standing
Robert Portal
Margaret Tyzack
Sarah Badel
Oliver Ford Davies
Robert Hardy
Katie Carr
Selina Cadell
Phyllis Calvert
Faith Brook
Peter Cellier
Alistair Petrie
Rating: 7.8/10

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Making little splash upon its release, reckoned as a box office disaster and largely went under the radar in the awards season, Dutch director Marleen Gorris’ adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s MRS. DALLOWAY, the follow-up of her Oscar-winning picture ANTONIA’S LINE (1995), is indeed a predominantly distaff labor of love: the late DP Sue Gibson was the first female member of the British Society of Cinematographers, and later became its first female president in 2008; its soothing score is composed by Ilona Sekacz, and the script is penned by none other than Dame Eileen Atkins.

Although the film’s bleak fiscal reception almost bankrupted Atkins (since she and her husband Bill Shepherd invested their own money to this passion project), as a Woolf connoisseur, she would brave another writing-dabbling in Chanya Button’s VITA AND VIRGINIA (2018), starring Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia and Gemma Arterton as author Vita Sachville-West, the inspiration behind Woolf’s ORLANDO, hope you haven’t invested your nest egg this time, Dame Atkins.

Therefore, one might offhand gauge that Gorris’ work is rather unremarkable, especially compared to Stephen Daldry’s virtuoso THE HOURS (2002), Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer winning source novel is a re-imagination of MRS. DALLOWAY’s influence on three women from three different generations (including the last day of Ms. Woolf herself), but truth to be told, Gorris and her team has achieved no small feat in reifying the novel’s freewheeling stream of consciousness, garnering the inner thoughts of Ms. Clarissa Dalloway’s (Redgrave), the wife of politician Richard Dalloway (Standing), on the day of June 13, 1923, London (echoing THE HOURS’ one-day time-frame, and herself is reincarnated by the party-planning Clarissa Vaughan in the modern day New York), when she prepares a party which she will host later that evening in her residence.

The unbidden visit of her old flame Peter Walsh (Kitchen), who returns to London after years in India, disconcerts Clarissa, whose memories hack back to the era when she was a young girl (McElhone), her dithering decision between a young Peter (Cox) and a young Richard (Portal), with the former she feel suffocated by his passionate affection and with the latter, what they cherish is a more secure, placid kind of love that grants her room to breathe, so finally she chooses Richard and breaks Peter’s heart. She also fondly reminisces the friendship between her and Sally (Headey), with whom she spontaneously shares a kiss, and is apparently ruffled by the thrill. Gorris nimbly juggles between present and past with an unshowy fluidity that quietly contemplates the characters’ strength in conveying the nuanced, unfeigned, affectionate outpouring of their feelings, including a subplot about a WWI veteran Septimus Warren Smith (Graves), who is ailed by delayed shell shock, and whose tragedy prompts Clarissa to deliberate darker thought on the eve of her party, where all her current and old friends are congregated together, and she saves her last dance to Peter.

A radiant Redgrave is gilded with sublime vulnerability and elegance, but inwardly, her Mrs. Dalloway is an unusual heroine who sagaciously forsakes passionate impulse for a less adventurous life that befits her, as opposing to most cinematic portraying of young girls, and among its capable dramatis personae, Rupert Graves stands out in exemplifying a young man’s war-stricken psyche with soul-shattering pathos. At any rate, MRS. DALLOWAY is a beautiful endeavor to visual Woolf’s text on the screen and it prevails over any skepticism that this female-led delicacy is anything but affecting.

referential entries: Sally Potter’s ORLANDO (1992, 7.4/10); Stephen Daldry’s THE HOURS (2002, 9.4/10).

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