We gave it an A-
June 13, 1923: A middle-aged Londoner goes out in the morning to buy flowers for the party she is giving that evening. By the time the last guests leave, her life (and by extension, much of post-World War I English society around her) will have been revealed, contained in a collage of overlapping observations and remembrances. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s 1925 masterpiece of literary modernism, was, I thought, unfilmable — how could one retain Woolf’s storytelling form, with its fragmenting of time and its abundance of interior monologues, in a medium of linear images? But in Mrs. Dalloway (First Look Pictures), director Marleen Gorris and screenwriter Eileen Atkins have done a remarkable job of suggesting the inner mental jumble Woolf strove to convey and constructing an exterior narrative of luminous beauty.
The pair were blessed, too, with the existence of Vanessa Redgrave, who, in her beaming, magisterial bearing, might well be the Platonic ideal of a Woolfish heroine. As Clarissa Dalloway, Redgrave projects a tender, somewhat wistful, sometimes distracted regard that dissolves nicely into scenes from Mrs. D’s life 30 years earlier — in which Surviving Picasso‘s Natascha McElhone plays the radiant young Clarissa.
The collaboration of Gorris, Atkins, and Redgrave promotes sisterhood at its most felicitous: The feminist rigor of the Dutch-born Gorris (whose Antonia’s Line won the 1995 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) is softened by the precision and sensitivity of Atkins’ exquisitely constructed script. The Atkins-Redgrave-Woolf axis, meanwhile, dates back to 1994, when Atkins played Virginia to Redgrave’s Vita Sackville-West Off Broadway in Vita and Virginia. Together, the gals have made movie sophistication out of literary art. To quote Mrs. Woolf: ”What a lark! What a plunge!” A-