- Marleen Gorris
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, January 15, 2004
In the meantime, Septimus Warren Smith (Rupert Graves), a shell-shocked World War I veteran, seriously considers committing suicide.
I believe this to be the one and only adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel to the big screen, and no wonder: The novel is all about words, and thoughts, and how they’re expressed, in a rhythmic, almost musical way; the experience of reading it is unique, and cannot be equaled in any other form of art, including cinema. I’m not saying that as a negative thing, however; in fact, after reading the novel, I was overly curious to see the movie, and find out how on Earth they made it possible. The result didn’t disappoint me in that matter. Actress Eileen Atkins, an obviously devoted fan of Woolf’s novel, did a masterful work in adapting it to the screen, removing most of the words, but leaving the essence intact. Quite unfortunately, the richness of the novel lies in every thought, in every reflection, and in every phrase, and that’s lost here; but movies adapted from novels can be perfect too, if only the story is important enough, or interesting enough, just through the facts, and not the characters’ reflections. Mind me, Mrs. Dalloway’s story is absolutely unforgettable, but only if we find out what’s on her mind and what was on her mind in the past and why she made the choices she made, and how that affected everyone around her; which, in a movie, cannot be expressed sufficiently.
Marleen Gorris, the director of Antonia’s Line, was a perfect choice for the task of directing this movie. Not only does it revolve around a woman, but it also has numerous lesbian and feminist undertones. And though the early twentieth century atmosphere was achieved fine, it never feels as sumptuous an adaptation as, say, the Merchant Ivory production of Howards End (1992)…
And if you thought my second paragraph was a little out of place, so is the subplot it describes. That problem is also in the novel, and I will admit it affected me as a reader, but not as much as it did later as a viewer: In the novel, the incredible reflections of Septimus and his wife (played here by Amelia Bullmore) made their appearances worthwhile, though it wasn’t completely clear why they were there. In the end, Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus’ stories were tied together beautifully, as were in the movie, but here, the impact isn’t strong enough to make up for the feeling of unsettledness said subplot produces.
Oh dear, I have mentioned mostly bad aspects, haven’t I? Well, don’t be fooled, I liked the movie quite much. I’m thankful to those who decided to make it, and did it so well. But I can’t come, in a million years, to recommend it instead of the book, which I can do for some other books-turned-movies (or at least I can say, “Read the book or watch the movie, both are great”). In this case, I’d recommend the book, and then The Hours (2002), the movie, or the book (or both).
But before I leave it at that, let me conclude my review by praising the extraordinary performances: Everyone shines, but special mention goes to Redgrave, who’s now for me the definite Mrs. Dalloway, and McElhone, who’s quite impressive as the same character years earlier. Graves is also extraordinary as Septimus.
“What a lark! What a plunge!”
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Other reviews of Mrs. Dalloway (1997): Morris