"It's a disaster," Mrs. Dalloway thinks to herself in voice-over.
"The party's a disaster." She has invited just the right members of
English society but things are on the verge of falling apart. One
person has brought along a friend who is a known bore, and Mrs.
Dalloway's own daughter may skip the party. Her daughter has plans to
go to the mission to help the poor instead of attending of her own
mother's party -- how inconsiderate.
But hold on, the guests are beginning to laugh. "Oh, it's not a
failure afterall," Mrs. Dalloway thinks to herself as she breathes a
sigh of relief.
The movie MRS. DALLOWAY, based on the Virginia Woolf novel,
suffers from a surfeit of one-dimensional characters. Having never
read the book, I cannot be sure if the problem stems from the book,
Marleen Gorris's direction or Eileen Atkins's adaptation. Regardless
of the source, the result is a film that is as dull as dishwater even
if most of the cast is quite talented.
Set in upper class society in London in 1923 as well as years
earlier during Mrs. Dalloway's late teens, the movie flits back and
forth between the two time periods in a manner certain to confuse half
the audience. Most characters are played by both a younger and an
older actor, but the actors cast to play them look so dissimilar and
the cuts back and forth in time are so frequent that the effect is
Vanessa Redgrave, playing Vanessa Redgrave, is Mrs. Dalloway. As
a teenage girl, she is known as Clarissa -- one loses one's first name
when one becomes a society matron -- and is played by Natascha
McElhone. The strikingly beautiful McElhone, last seen in THE DEVIL'S
OWN and SURVIVING PICASSO, brings nothing to the role. She smiles
radiantly in every scene but makes Clarissa seem like a person who does
not have a brain in her head.
The only complex character in the movie, a shell-shocked World War
I veteran named Septimus, is played with feeling by Rupert Graves. If
the other performances had been as strong as his, the movie would have
had more life to it.
Every time the movie looks like it will finally come alive, as
when Sally (Lena Headey) kisses Clarissa in the garden, the story
quickly goes off in another direction. Likewise, when the rich Sally
complains that the problems of the world stem from people's being
allowed to own private property, Clarissa says she hopes she is not
including her family's house (read mansion). But nothing is ever made
of Sally's budding socialism, and the thin Sally turns up later in life
as the plump Lady Rosseter (Sarah Badel) with five kids and no desire
to upset the social structure.
Most costume dramas, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE being a recent,
excellent example, are bristling with life, but not MRS. DALLOWAY.
None of the characters, with the possible exception of Septimus, are
worth caring about.
"Oh what snobs the English are," says Mrs. Dalloway's old suitor
Peter Walsh (Michael Kitchen) at her big party. "How they love
dressing up." And the movie MRS. DALLOWAY is nothing more than a
MRS. DALLOWAY runs 1:37. It is rated PG-13 for emotional elements
and brief nudity. It would be acceptable for kids ten and up, but they
would probably need to be older teenagers to be interested in the
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes