The phrase ‘unfilmable novel’ has become somewhat of a clich in modern times, but it’s been embraced with gusto by the film industry. Sometimes these adaptations work (American Psycho, MorvenCallar), sometimes they’re heroic failures (Naked Lunch), sometimes they just plain stink (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin).
The Hours is the latest ‘difficult’ book to be adapted into a film. With its interconnected tales of depressive lesbians, mental illness and Virginia Woolf, this isn’t a movie for the Jackass generation. It is however a starkly beautiful film, boasting performances that have ‘Oscar’ written all over them, and while it’s not an easy film to enjoy, it’s certainly one to admire.
Virginia Woolf (an astonishing performance by Nicole Kidman) is the common thread that holds the three stories together. When we first meet her, she’s written her suicide note and walking into a river, weighed down by rocks in her pocket. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that she’s in the middle of writing her most famous book Mrs Dalloway.
Years later, suburban 1950s housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is reading the said Mrs Dalloway while her marriage falls apart round her ears. We also see Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) in modern day Manhattan, who appears to be a real-life Mrs Dalloway, planning a party for her friend who is dying of AIDS.
To say anymore about the plot would spoil the film, as part of the fun lies in piecing together the connections between the three strands of the film. The Woolf section stands out purely because of Kidman’s performance. Rendered unrecognisable by a false nose and ill-fitting cardigan, she perfectly conveys Woolf’s desperation and misery.
This isn’t to disparage either Moore or Streep however. Moore has proved many times that she’s one of the most under-rated actresses working today. Her portrayal of the depressed, confused Laura is deeply moving. Hopefully, her roles in this and Far From Heaven will propel her into the A List. Streep too does her usual reliable job, although her strand in the film is probably the weakest.
Director Stephen Daldry proves that Billy Elliot was no fluke – he handles all three story strands perfectly and merges them together quite expertly. He coaxes superb performances out of all concerned (including a criminally under-used Toni Collette), and proves to be a dab hand at a set piece – the scene where Moore retires to a hotel to contemplate suicide is especially memorable.
The Hours is not a feel good Hollywood blockbuster by any means. Its sensitive subject matter won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it could be accused of deliberately playing up to the Oscar judges. Fans of Moore, Streep and especially Kidman will not go away disappointed though, and as for Daldry, the sky appears to be the limit.