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(1998) (Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone) (PG-13)

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Drama: A woman fondly looks back on her life some thirty years earlier and wonders if she made the right choices then.
On a June day in 1923 London, middle-aged socialite Clarissa Dalloway (VANESSA REDGRAVE), is preparing for her high-society party. Although married to Richard Dalloway (JOHN STANDING) with a teenage daughter, Clarissa's life has been reduced to a decision-less existence, meaning she doesn't have much to do other than worry about her party. When she learns that a boyfriend from her past, Peter Walsh (MICHAEL KITCHEN), has arrived in town, however, she begins reflecting upon her past.

She remembers back to a time when she is the young and carefree Clarissa (NATASCHA McELHONE) who is courted by a similarly younger Peter (ALAN COX) whose adventurous passions make her nervous and doubtful about their future together. Although seemingly in love with Peter, Clarissa also enjoys spending time with her best friend Sally (LENA HEADEY). Then, on a day that would change her life forever, she meets young Richard Dalloway (ROBERT PORTAL), a dashing man with lots of potential who sweeps her off her feet. Peter is immediately jealous, but it's of no use, for their collective fates have been sealed.

As those memories flood back for the older Mrs. Dalloway, a young WWI war veteran, Septimus Warren Smith (RUPERT GRAVES), begins to suffer from combat hallucinations and flashbacks. His wife Rezia (AMELIA BULLMORE), tries to help him, but his future seems uncertain. As the time for Mrs. Dalloway's party nears, little is she aware that this young veteran's problems will eventually answer her questions and doubts about whether she made the right choices in her life.

It's not very likely unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of the original novel.
For emotional elements and brief nudity.
  • VANESSA REDGRAVE plays an older, introspective woman who worries about whether she made the right choices in her past.
  • NATASCHA McELHONE plays Clarissa at a younger age when she was carefree. She briefly (and romantically) kisses her best female friend, but beyond that doesn't appear to have any major problems.
  • RUPERT GRAVES plays a hallucinating, paranoid war veteran.
  • ALAN COX and MICHAEL KITCHEN play the younger and older versions of Peter, who at both ages are smitten with Clarissa. The younger smokes cigars while the older apparently has an affair with a married woman (not seen).


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    Based on Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel, this cinematic adaption of that work features some fine performances from its cast, but somewhat suffers from voice-over abuse and the lack of a concrete plot that initially creates higher expectations than what is finally delivered. An intriguing examination of people looking back at pivotal moments in their lives, the film is engaging at times and should please fans of serious drama. It's doubtful, however, that it will draw many mainstream moviegoers into the theaters.

    I'll admit that I haven't read the original novel, but from this adaption it seems apparent that much of it -- like most other introspective stories -- takes place inside the main character's head. That's usually quite difficult to translate into a visual medium, although if carefully done, some of it can be captured in certain looks or gestures. Likewise, new scenes can be written just for the film that contain exposition-like dialogue to fill in the necessary gaps or to relay what the characters are feeling.

    Unfortunately, director Marleen Gorris ("Antonia's Line"), has taken the easy but also irritating way out of the dilemma by audibly presenting what's inside the main character's head. I've never been particularly fond of the use of voice-overs, although here its application is marginally understandable -- we actually hear Clarissa thinking aloud -- but that doesn't soften the cheap effect it produces. In one scene, the older Clarissa sees Peter for the first time in years and we hear her thoughts about what she, and the rest of us, are seeing (in describing Peter). It's not only somewhat obtrusive, but it's also particularly redundant. While that easy device isn't used throughout the film, its bookend approach too easily drops us into the story and then also neatly wraps things up at the end.

    Of course the voice-overs had to be used to explain the paper thin connection between Clarissa's story and that regarding Septimus, the flashback ravaged war veteran. In fact, so much time is spent focusing on his condition and the loving devotion that radiates from his wife, that one wonders what great event will eventually tie these two dissimilar stories together. Will Septimus finally "lose it" and literally crash Clarissa's party, thus ruining the social event for her, and perhaps some of her guests whom he might mistake for past WWI enemies? Well, he does crash her party in an offhand way, but without the tack on voice-over, we'd never know how it affects her. Although in hindsight we realize they're kindred spirits both haunted by their pasts, as it stands the finale is a great letdown for our built up expectations.

    The emotionally scarred veteran plot would have been okay as a standalone story (being set in post-WWI London), but in this film's greater context it simply clouds the main story from which it diverts our attention. That's too bad, because the main story itself -- an interwoven tapestry of "current" events and those that occurred some thirty years earlier -- is interesting. Since director Gorris and screenwriter Eileen Atkins (an actress making her writing debut) have woven together the present and the past, we become intrigued as events unfold in both times, and as we learn more tidbits that help in piecing together the complete story.

    It's an effective tool, as it keeps the audience guessing about what really occurred as well as what will happen at Clarissa's anticipated party. It's not really a mystery in the classic sense, but we do want to know the truth behind the events. While the present is interesting with Clarissa's introspection of her life, it's the flashbacks to her formative years that are the most tantalizing.

    Since we essentially have a study of contrasting behavior between the two different Clarissas -- one is radiant and full of life, while the other is cautiously reserved and worried -- it's interesting to see what caused such a change in the title character. Although we never really discover that fact -- it more develops in the unseen, intervening years -- the first inklings are present and it's Clarissa's choice among suitors that seals her fate.

    Six-time Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave (with one win for her supporting role in "Julia") is outstanding in her role as the reserved and introspective Mrs. Dalloway. Despite that overuse of her voice-over, she still manages to deliver an impressive performance, and we clearly feel for her and sympathize with her worries. Natascha McElhone ("The Devi's Own," "Surviving Picasso") gets the more fun role of playing Clarissa in her young, carefree days, and is absolutely radiant on the big screen.

    Quirky character actor Rupert Graves ("Intimate Relations," "Different For Girls") also delivers a decent performance. Nevertheless, the subplot regarding his character is so far removed from the main story that our attention is diffused from his role and more toward constantly trying to figure out how these two dissimilar stories will ever meet. The rest of the cast members also deliver fine performances and for the most part are quite believable in their respective roles.

    What makes the story work is that nearly everyone can identify with the title character's obsession and doubt regarding whether she made the right choices in her life. As one gets older, those doubts about choices continually pile up as we're faced with more and more of them. What's most interesting is how Virginia Woolf's life (1882-1941) seemingly inspired this drama.

    Subject to several mental breakdowns through her life, she lived through the aftermath of WWI and once tried committing suicide by throwing herself from a window (as a character does here). Her maddening self-doubts eventually did her in and caused her to finally take her life in 1941. One can see the beginnings of that in Dalloway's character, and of course the later stages exhibited by Septimus.

    Although the use of Dalloway's voice-over is irritating, and the subplot never feels coherent with the rest of the film, neither should prevent you from seeing or even enjoying this picture. If you like period romantic dramas, you probably won't go wrong with this production. Featuring some fine performances, this is an intriguing and often entertaining film. We give "Mrs. Dalloway" a 7 out of 10.

    The film's PG-13 rating comes from nudity (we briefly see a young woman's bare breast, butt and an ever-so-brief glimpse of full frontal nudity) and "emotional elements" that refer to the troubled war veteran. Beyond that, the rest of the categories have little or no major objectionable material. A man does have some flashbacks and eventually kills himself (off camera) and there are some good talking points regarding making choices in one's life and dealing with those already made in the past. Although it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, you might want to look through the content in case you or someone in your family wishes to see it.

  • People drink wine or champagne at a party.
  • The main characters, as their younger selves, drink wine with dinner.
  • The older Richard and several other people drink wine with lunch.
  • People drink wine or other liquors at Clarissa's party.
  • None.
  • The older Clarissa shows a few brief signs of dismissing religion (for those bothered by that). She mentions that there "are no gods" and "no one to blame," and she later disapproves of her daughter accompanying a woman she describes as a religious extremist. She says to this woman's face, "I've often thought that religious fanaticism can make a person rather callous."
  • The young Peter doesn't like another man and tells Clarissa that fact, as he puts down that man's intelligence and social standing.
  • The young Peter, hopelessly in love with Clarissa, gets mad that she's romantically interested in Richard.
  • There's some brief talk about the older Peter being in love with a married woman in India (ie. An affair).
  • Septimus' odd behavior and the one flashback/hallucination that we see may be unsettling to the youngest of kids (if they're even watching it).
  • Septimus climbs out onto the window ledge when the doctors come to take him away to the mental asylum, and prepares to jump.
  • Rifle/Pistol: Briefly seen in some WWI footage, as well as in a hallucination.
  • Phrases: "Imbecile" and "Fool."
  • A man throws himself out a window to his death on a spiked railing below him (we hear, but don't see, the impact).
  • None.
  • Just a few moments have some ominous tones accompanying them.
  • None.
  • 2 damns and 3 uses each of "For God's sakes" and "God," and 1 use of "Good God" as exclamations.
  • The young Sally stands behind Clarissa and drops her robe. We briefly see her bare breasts and then her bare butt in a mirror. We then see her run down a hallway (bare butt) and as she turns around, we very briefly see full frontal nudity (from a distance).
  • The young Sally tells Clarissa, "You always look virginal," to which Clarissa replies, "I am virginal."
  • The young Sally and Clarissa frolic and flirt together, and at night outside a party, Sally romantically kisses Clarissa, but they're interrupted by others and nothing more comes of that again.
  • There's some brief talk about a woman having a child without being married.
  • A few characters, including the young Peter and Sally, and a few others smoke cigars once or twice.
  • Other characters smoke cigars and cigarettes in the backgrounds of certain shots.
  • Rezia must deal with her husband Septimus who is haunted by flashbacks and hallucinations relating to his experiences in WWI.
  • The choices people make in their lives (the title character here looks back on her life and wonders if she made the right choices).
  • War veterans who have flashbacks and hallucinations created by wartime trauma.
  • We hear the sounds of gunfire and explosions as we see Septimus in a WWI trench.
  • Septimus has a hallucination where he sees a soldier blown up by some sort of explosion (with no gore).
  • A man throws himself out a window to his death on a spiked railing below him (we hear, but don't see, the impact).

  • Reviewed February 9, 1998

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