Redgrave convinces but film incomplete
The process of Woolf writing the book was the inspiration in turn for “The Hours,” the film version of which four years ago revived interest in the book. The film was intense, meaningful and brilliantly acted.
Now a straight adaptation of the original novel, starring the great Vanessa Redgrave in the title role, has come to Korean screens. Though it was made in 1997, five years before “The Hours,” it will be a disappointment for fans of that film. Even setting aside that perhaps unfair comparison, “Mrs. Dalloway” fails to translate Woolf to the screen entirely successfully.
Still, there are quite a few very good performances, and the story comes through mostly intact. “Mrs. Dalloway” takes place on a single day, as the aging Clarissa Dalloway (Redgrave) plans a party at which the passions of her past will reassemble themselves. Like the book, the film intersperses the story with flashbacks to Clarissa’s happy life at a country home at Bourton with Peter Walsh (Alan Cox), her adventurous suitor, and Sally Selton (Lena Headey), her best friend and might-have-been lover.
The scenes of the younger characters are typical; it’s watching their older counterparts reflecting upon lost potential that is the real treasure. Clarissa ultimately refuses Peter, who flees to India heartbroken and, though he involves himself with other women, never entirely gets over her. Sally succumbs to marriage (which she earlier calls a “catastrophe for women”), but seems quite happy as a mother. The bitter Peter (Michael Kitchen) and wise Sally (Sarah Badel) reassemble at Mrs. Dalloway’s party.
Clarissa, who chooses safety over happiness or passion, is left with an ambiguous ending, professing she is free of fear and the weight of the past though nothing real has changed.
Meanwhile Septimus Warren Smith (Rupert Graves) grapples with insanity brought on by watching his best friend Evans die in the trenches in the Great War. He is terrified of the impending judgment for his “crime” ― insufficient empathy ― even while his doctors treat him as repulsive and contemptuous. Aside from the film’s opening, which depicts Evans dying and looks quite fake, Septimus’s story is moving, especially in his quiet moments with his wife (Amelia Bullmore).
It’s hard to see how Woolf’s unique storytelling could make it intact to the screen. This film attempts to restore some of the charm of Woolf’s prose through a voiceover by Redgrave, but spoken on screen it goes by far too fast to really savor.
There are not many films like this one, about old age, good memories and regrets, insanity, death and the meaning of life. That alone, and Redgrave, makes it worth seeing. But this by no means a definitive adaptation.
Drama / English
by Ben Applegate