‘The Hours’ was never going to be a low-key production. Directed by ‘Billy Elliott”s Stephen Daldry, and with a Hollywood blockbuster cast starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman and her famous fake nose, it was always going to be up for award nominations and receive a lot of attention.
Kidman, Streep and Moore play three unrelated yet linked women living at different times, who we see grappling with the ideas of what makes their lives worth living and how they can be happy within the constraints of society.
In a massive departure from her usually glamorous roles, Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf beginning to write her novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and struggling against depression which will ultimately prove fatal. On the advice of doctors and under the watchful eye of her husband, Leonard, Woolf has been exiled from London to recover from her depression but finds the countryside stultifying. Her every movement is scrutinised and her meals are regulated. She feels unable to write away from her beloved London, her life and her friends, and if she cannot write she will die.
Julianne Moore is excellent in the role of Laura Brown, a 1950s Los Angeles suburban housewife, married to a Second World War veteran, who lives an outwardly perfect life but is suffocating in her role as wife and mother. She is reading ‘Mrs Dalloway’ as an intellectual escape from her stifling life. She eventually realises that she cannot function as a person within the constraints of the family and has to make shattering choices.
Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a book editor living in present day New York. She has been nicknamed ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by her friend Richard, an award-winning poet who is now dying of Aids. We see Clarissa, like Mrs Dalloway at the start of the novel, buying flowers for a society party. Clarissa has spent her life organising parties and looking after Richard, to whom she is completely devoted, to the point of neglecting her partner. From his vantage point on the brink of death, Richard tries to encourage Clarissa to live her own life to the full, recognise her own worth and value the unorthodox but loving family that she has.
The film jumps about through time and between the three women’s lives, and withholds information, giving the film an air of mystery, which is only solved when all the pieces come together at the end. The Phillip Glass score and interlinked images of the three women carrying out the same activity help the momentum of the film to flow.
All of the women playing the main characters are superb, particularly Moore and Kidman, and there is a very strong supporting cast. Kidman has broken out of her typecasting in films such as ‘Moulin Rouge’ and is, unexpectedly, really very convincing in her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.
This is not the feelgood film of the year, and in some parts is quite shocking and disturbing. But it is a very thoughtful, beautiful and well acted film about women struggling to free themselves from society’s expectations, and make their own way and their own happiness in the world. Go and see it, and if you haven’t read ‘Mrs Dalloway’ give it a try.
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