Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Movie Review - Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway
Based on the book by Virginia Woolf
Starring: Rupert Graves, Vanessa Redgrave, Amanda Drew, Oliver Ford Davies, Natascha McElhone, Alan Cox, Hal Cruttenden, Lena Headey, Amelia Bullmore, Rupert Baker, Alistair Petrie, John Franklyn-Robbins, Phyllis Calvert, Katie Carr, Selina Cadell, Michael Kitchen, Robert Portal, John Standing, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Hardy, Denis Lill, Kate Binchy, Sarah Badel, Janet Henfrey, Faith Brook, Tony Steedman, and Christopher Staines
Release Date: September 4th, 1997
Rating: ★★★
To Watch

It is a beautiful summer's day in June. Mrs. Dalloway wonders aloud how is she so lucky to have her party on such a perfect day. When she was young, at Bourton, every day was perfect and spent with her friends, several of whom are coming to her party that night. As she walks to the florist she runs into one of them, Hugh, a rather hopeless case then and now. But he has his purpose. After picking out the sweet peas at the shop, just like her dear friend Sally Seton used to decorate the table one night all those years ago, a car backfires and she sees a young man in distress through the shop window. Septimus Warren Smith is out with his wife Rezia. They are due for an appointment later at the doctors because Septimus keeps threatening to kill himself and sees his dead friend Evans wherever he goes. The image of that young man will stick with Clarissa all day as she prepares for her party. And she has some unexpected hurdles; her daughter, Elizabeth, is insisting she won't attend because she'll be helping her friend Miss Kilman in her charitable work. There is also a little do-to about a boring acquaintance wishing to attend whom Clarissa would rather not. But the biggest surprise is when Peter Walsh walks through the door. Peter has been in India ever since Clarissa threw him over for her husband all those summers ago at Bourton. Peter's life, and in particular his love life, is a shambles and he breaks down in front of Clarissa. He can't help be overwhelmed by what his life has become and the thought that he loved Clarissa. He's uncertain if he still does, but the fact that he did has colored his entire life. Despite saying that under no circumstance would he be invited to the party he gets an invitation shouted after him as he flees the Dalloway's residence. Then finally, the hour has come, the party is to start, and Clarissa is sure it will be a failure. She just wishes to create this one perfect evening for her guests so that they can go out into the world afterwards and look back on the wonder of the perfect memory, the perfect evening, the perfect conversation, the perfect party. She worries that one of her guests, a rather renowned doctor, will ruin everything by discussing the suicide of his patient Septimus Warren Smith, by bringing death into her domain, but sometimes life, love, and memories, are greater than death, which has it's own kind of freedom.   

Remember the days when you'd just channel surf and see what was on because the only other way was to drag out the TV Guide, an actual, physical, small newsprint block of information, not that glossy mag that's still around today, and try to figure out which channel was which because each cable company had a different channel lineup? Well, back then I stumbled on this wonderfully British and evocative movie. I only got to watch about twenty minutes of it because dinner was ready but it left enough of an impression that I bothered to dig out the TV Guide after the fact and figure out that it was called Mrs. Dalloway. Knowing it was based on the book by Virginia Woolf, and at this time I would never watch an adaptation without reading the book first, I went out and got myself a copy of Mrs. Dalloway and it sat on my shelves for years. Then after The Hours came out a new edition of Mrs. Dalloway was released including the short story which was the initial inspiration for the book so I thought to myself, lucky I didn't read Mrs. Dalloway without reading it's precursor first! So the first copy sat around for five years and the second copy sat around for, I'm almost ashamed to say it, seventeen years, until it was finally dug out and read this year. Here's the thing, the book is a lot of work to read whereas this is an easy adaptation that you don't have to work for. Which means it's probably the exact opposite of what Virginia Woolf would have wanted but makes for a pleasurable moviegoing experience. Eileen Atkins, yes, that Eileen Atkins, the Dame, has taken Mrs. Dalloway and made it into a rather sweet coming of age story combined with the wistfulness of aging and first and lasting loves with an edge of social satire that has everything to do with the casting and nothing to do with the source material. In fact, the closer it gets to the source material, especially with regard to Septimus, played by Rupert Graves, and his PTSD, the less the movie works. This movie falls squarely into the time period of Rupert Graves's acting that I hate. He took himself so seriously and overacted so abysmally that I don't know how anyone can watch him in anything he was in from the start of his career to about 2005. In fact it wasn't until Sherlock in 2010 where I started to like him after the loathing and indifference. So if you can stomach some truly bad acting on his part and want a nice summery escape to an England that exists only in dreams of the past this idyll is for you.


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