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Mrs. Dalloway

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mrs. Dalloway

Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone
Director: Marleen Gorris
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: February 1998
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, John Standing, Alan Cox, Lena Headey, Margaret Tyzack, Sarah Badel

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

"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 jarring.

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 dress-up party.

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 story.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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