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First Chapters

Writer Hare and director Daldrey in tandem never put a foot wrong

An astonishing tour-de-force adapted by veteran British playwright and scenarist David Hare from Michael Cunningham’s inspired and evocative novel of the same name THE HOURS, which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, is a film that makes you feel very glad to be alive. In spite of its frighteningly accurate and empathetic depiction of despair and profound personal misery as the triggers for suicide THE HOURS is a genuinely life-affirming experience, one that certainly renews my own faith in existence, and in art--house cinema’s viability. So very many "indie" art-house films are sterile and self-serving:bereft of the strong currents that should flow through any stirring life’s depiction on celluloid.

Director Stephen Daldrey knows just how very revealing – of both thoughts and feelings - an astutely judged close-up can become when actresses of the caliber of Nicole Kidman – unrecognizable due to a prosthetic proboscis; that is a false nose – Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore are on camera, their finely tuned features exposing the very souls of the particular women that they here personify so convincingly.

Three eras are examined minutely : the Forties, the Fifties and the first year of the New Millennium. Virginia Woolf the eccentric writer of " Mrs,Dalloway" (1923), her fourth novel, is stranded in the rural unexciting enclave of Thames-side Richmond utterly denied the pleasures of the Metropolis of nearby London apprehensive that her severe manic-depression will recur in the giddy social whirl of The Capital.Her anxious husband Leonard Woolf tends her like an exotic houseplant apt to wilt on cue.

Mrs.Laura Brown is a scattered California suburbanite wrestling with the demons of a well-meaning dullard of a hubby, a clingy little son, and yet another child on the way. She is affluent yet suffers from a restless debilitating’anomie’; social isolation causing an all embracing melancholy. Ms.Clarissa ‘Mrs.Dalloway’ Vaughan is a New York book editor, a gay older woman. with a loving partner, who has been caring for an emaciated terminally aetiolated AIDS victim, Richard Brown, a distinguished bisexual poet and novelist at the end of his tether, drugged up to the eyeballs and unwilling to leave his scummy sordid loft. His ersatz Mrs Dalloway remains his sole contact with the outside world.

All three stories are interwoven yet are elucidated across triple time-frames in a vibrantly intimate way . We suffer along with them as they contemplate ending it all, though Streep’s Ms. Vaughan never quite reaches that ultimate crisis. To portray people in extremis is never an easy task when the overwhelming "intimacy "of film - if poorly calibrated - can tip over into melodramatic excess. One ill-judged scene can topple even the most suave svelte drama into the ridiculous.

Writer Hare and director Daldrey in tandem never put a foot wrong, never take a misstep, nor make a single false move that could so readily have spoilt the mood of doom and gloom relieved by wit and loving attention to detail. Only the insistent, typically plangent musical score of Philip Glass – monotonously droning and tinkling in our ears - damages this exceptionally deft adaptation from page to screen. And it must be said it could be any actress of talent under the prosthetic proboscis, for theNicoleKidman we know well is entirely hidden.Whereas Moore is utterly convincing again, as she was in FAR FROM HEAVEN ( best not to see this before you see THE HOURS ) in the role of a frazzled Lotus Land hausfrau on the verge of a major emotional collapse, and Streep, ever entirely reliable, is the soundly anchored mainstay for all of this splendid depiction of angst and its obverse: the Woolfian contemplation, indeed ‘celebration’, of the daily vicissitudes of dull existence. It is through our enduring and withstanding the tedium of minute-by-minute ‘living’- at its most banal and boring - that we all of us become authentic heroines and heroes. Woolf drowned herself at age 59 , choosing to surrender to an all enveloping bleakness of the soul. But then without her ‘mood-disorder’,as we would label her creative agony today,would she have proved a major groundbreaking literary artist?

© Alex Grant 2003

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