Movie Review By Andrea Chase
Admittedly, it's no easy task to make a silly woman's foolish choices an engrossing cinematic experience. For that reason alone the people who tried to make a film of Virginia Woolf's novel, "Mrs. Dalloway" get an "E" for effort. It has a sumptuous look, excellent supporting performances, and I wish I could have liked it more.
The story, set in 1923, follows the title character, played by Vanessa Redgrave, as she plans a party. As she does, she begins to recall the choice she made years ago when pursued by two suitors who could not have been more different. Rather than reckless passion, her choice, born of cowardice, was for the security of a quiet life full of privilege.
The scene shifts between Mrs. Dalloway's present and her past and there's a is problem. The actors in the present, Redgrave excepted, bear little if any resemblance to their counterparts in the past. Some manifest jarring changes in height.
Then there's Redgrave herself, all surface, albeit impressive, technique with no discernible soul. She seems far too caught up with how clever she is. She also looks, even with lighting that is so sympathetic as to be unctuous, too old to be the contemporary of her spurned, sweet-eyed suitor, played by Michael Kitchen, an actor of enormous heart and charm, most recently seen here on Masterpiece Theater's "Reckless."
The film succeeds, though, in its subplots that comment on the upheaval English society endured after World War I. There are draconian plans to solve unemployment, and intolerance masquerading as christian charity, both presented with dry wit and piquant irony. But the emotional tug comes from a shell-shocked veteran, touchingly played by Rupert Graves, and his loving, brave wife as they desperately, fearfully seek help. Paradoxically, this is the subplot least integrated into the film as a whole, included in a tacked on fashion so that the story of what happens to them can be told at Mrs. Dalloway's party, precipitating her mid-life crisis.
Redgrave should have given us more of an emotional stake in "Mrs. Dalloway's" disillusionment, one that reflects the tenor of those times. Would that she had retired early on to a room of her own upstairs, closed the door, and left the rest of the cast to carry on.
© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 3/4/98
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