Friday, July 21, 2006

Movie Log: Mrs. Dalloway

This is the 1997 movie, adapting the Virginia Woolf novel, which I watched with The Wife on Wednesday night; it took me this long to get to it for the simple reason that I had no idea it existed before The Wife found it and put it on the top of her Netflix queue.

Mrs. Dalloway was one of the novels I'd connected with best in college; I usually had one or two books per class each semester that I really loved, which made up for the others, which I often loathed. (I am a man of strong opinions, as you might have noticed.) Mrs. Dalloway was right up there with The Warden and As I Lay Dying and McTeague among the novels that hit me like two-by-fours and reaffirmed my conviction that the English-major thing was exactly what I wanted to do.

So my feelings were a bit mixed about this movie: I wanted it to be really good, to live up to the novel, but I suspected it wasn't, since if it had been that good, I probably would have heard of it. I was more-or-less right: Mrs. Dalloway doesn't start quite right, and it wobbles a bit as it goes along, but it ends very well, so I forgave it its flaws along the way.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the "present-day" (1923) Clarissa Dalloway, with Natascha McElhone handling the young Clarissa in the flash-back sequences. Redgrave also narrates a lot of the movie, in an attempt to get the book's stream-of-consciousness feeling. This mostly works, but Redgrave has a very languid tone, especially early on, and her often repeated "flowers for my party" hovers very close to self-parody. (I expect that viewers who are not already familiar with the novel, or sympathetic to Clarissa, will lose interest entirely.) As in the book, the movie is the story of one day in Clarissa's life, as she prepares for and then gives a party in her home. Interwoven with that are her memories of an earlier time in her life (I'd estimate about forty years before, when she was in her late teens), at a country house -- from internal evidence, probably a visit of about a week or two.

Clarissa's story intersects that of Septimus Warren-Smith, a young man who served with distinction in the war but who has had a very debilitating case of shell-shock come over him in the past few months. Septimus and Clarissa never actually meet, but their stories intertwine around each other -- the movie shows this well, and is good at switching from one story to the other. (The only place where this doesn't work, I thought, was in the choice of starting the movie with a short scene of Septimus in the trenches -- this is Mrs. Dalloway, not Sgt. Warren-Smith.)

As I said, the ending is particularly fine (reminiscent of John Huston's magnificent The Dead, I thought), though the movie feels longer than its ninety-seven minutes, so some viewers might not have the patience to make it that far. It's probably mostly a movie for fans of the novel -- or of slow-paced movies about emotional states and personal interactions in general -- but it's quite good of its kind. I'm now seriously thinking of re-reading the novel, which is some kind of recommendation for the movie.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I had forgotten all about this one and had no plans to see it . now I'll have to check it out on DVD!

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