Mrs. Dalloway

on February 20, 1998 by Kevin Courrier
   After the strident sentimentality and warmed-over feminism of her Oscar-winning film "Antonia's Line," director Marleen Gorris turns to the richer and more sublime work of Virginia Woolf in this inconsistent yet ultimately satisfying adaptation of her 1925 novel, "Mrs. Dalloway."
   The story is set in 1923, with Clarissa Dalloway (Vanessa Redgrave, in a luminous performance) throwing a party in her elegant London home. She's married to Richard Dalloway (John Standing), a rather stodgy member of Parliament who gave her the stability she craved. But she was once in love with Peter Walsh, a man whose passion was so strong for her that it frightened her away. By using flashbacks, Gorris illustrates how, and why, the younger Clarissa ("The Devil's Own's" Natascha McElhone) made those decisions.
   What goes wrong in "Mrs. Dalloway" is the incessant flashbacks that give the film an erratic tone. And there's also a parallel story from the book about Septimus Warren Smith ("My Best Friend's Wedding's" Rupert Graves), a shell-shocked soldier from the Great War, who not only comes across in the film as a deeply contrived metaphor, but is also erribly overacted by Graves. There are other fine performances, though, by Michael Kitchen ("Enchanted April") who plays the older Peter Walsh with the quiet dignity of a man who's burned by concealing a torch that shines too bright. And McElhone is lovely as the young Clarissa, looking naive yet also self-conscious of the effects her beauty has on the men who woo her.
   But it's in the final party sequence where the movie truly comes together. "Mrs. Dalloway" is about coming to terms with the choices we make in life, and the deeper feelings of understanding that often need the test of time to be understood. By the end of "Mrs. Dalloway," we do indeed understand.    Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone, Rupert Graves and Michael Kitchen. Directed by Marleen Gorris. Written by Eileen Atkins. Produced by Lisa Katselas Pare and Stephen Bayly. A First Look release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for emotional elements and brief nudity. Running time: 97 min. Screened at Toronto.
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