1921: Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) lives in a country cottage with her quietly supportive husband (Stephen Dillane), writing Mrs Dalloway, contemplating suicide and whether to kill Mrs Dalloway. 1951: Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) lives in suburban America with husband Dan (John C. Reilly), pregnant with her second child, contemplating suicide, reading Mrs Dalloway and preparing a birthday cake. 2001: book editor Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep), alienated from her lover Sally (Allison Janney), is preparing a party for her AIDS-infected best friend Richard (Ed Harris), who is contemplating suicide.
Review by Louise Keller:
A portrait of a woman’s life in a single day, The Hours weaves together a glimpse of three tortured, suicidal women from different eras. Replete with extraordinary performances from an A list cast, this is a truly reflective film that needs to be thoroughly digested. It begins by inter-cutting images of the three women beginning their day. There is little dialogue, just images as they wake, reflect, begin their toiletries, while Phillip Glass’s intense music agitates our emotions as it accelerandos into a frenzy. The complexity of the jumps in time and the situations of all three women makes for fascinating viewing, although an adaptation can never fully reveal the kind of detailed descriptions in Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning novel. It’s a bewitching journey and slowly the pieces of the intricate puzzle start to fit as we flit through the decades. The superlative cast embodies the characters so profoundly that we are enticed deeper and deeper into the minds of each of them. The poignant unhappiness of Julianne Moore’s suicidal housewife; the tortured rebellion of Nicole Kidman’s isolated authoress; the underlying uncertainty of Meryl Streep’s book editor. But beyond the three central women are other key characters, who impact on their realities and affect us. Ed Harris’ dying poet; Toni Collette’s childless neighbour; Claire Dane’s independent daughter; Jeff Daniel’s homosexual ex; Allison Janney’s understanding lesbian; Miranda Richardson’s bewildered sister; John C. Reilly’s traditional husband. Stephen Daldry has brought together all these strands and complex lives that question the essence of life and death, in a striking and compelling way. This is a story that tries to define happiness. It is about facing the many hours that lie between happiness and the rest of our lives. Like Woolf’s literary heroine Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa ‘is always giving parties to cover the silence’. This is a film about the silences, and the details - the way an egg is cracked to bake a cake; the prison walls that the servants build; the superficial laughter to hide the pain. Beautifully detailed production design and costumes reinforce the individual characters that continue to haunt us after the credits have rolled. Kidman’s Woolf is remarkable: she is totally buried in the character, both emotionally and physically with a prosthetic nose that defies the closest scrutiny, and a gravel vocal inflection. A profound and thought-provoking film that tosses up a unique intersection of ideas about life, death and happiness, The Hours enthrals at every turn.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Hours is an acting showcase for eight women and three men, making what is a literature-driven Rubik’s Cube watchable, enjoyable even. This was never meant to be watched. It was meant to be read, and it’s an audacious if not foolhardy team of filmmakers who walk carefully where angels fear to film. Writer David Hare has dug deep in his writer’s soul to wrench forth a screenplay that resonates with us, even though it plays like a melodrama, through three feminist-spirited stories – stories of three women in different eras who gasp with their struggles of life that echo or refer to each other in various ways. The primary connection is Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), the woman whose writing starts it all, back in 1921, with her tortured life and tortured portrait of Mrs Dalloway, a novel in which Woolf makes little distinction between reality and fantasy, and juxtaposes sanity and insanity. Her flirtation with suicide emerges in the film through other characters, as indeed do other themes, such as insanity, the pressures of society on women, and the strange selfishness of giving one’s life to others. Or just throwing a party to cover the pain, as the script says, meaning the pain of being a woman. This is cross referred in the title, which gets its context in the screenplay as ‘the hours’ spent alone and/or in pain. Director Stephen Daldry handles the three-era juggling with skill, and the actors devour the script, with its darkly observed cavalcade of ‘women’s topics’ ranging from pregnancy and motherhood to lesbian liaisons. Phillip Glass pours his musical waterfall over the film and gives it an intensity like crazed, impatient fingers drumming on a coffin lid. Kidman is (un)sensationally good, unrecognisable in body and soul as Nicole, completely submerged in a fatally wounded Virginia. Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep also step outside their star personas and create deeply touching characters. There isn’t a false performance note in the whole film, and even if we don’t agree with the film’s skewed view of women, we enjoy the filmmakers’ process. Needless to say, The Hours is not an immediate multiplex release and it will need the right audiences at the start to spread the word, but it has a haunting mood and strong cinematic touches.
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HOURS, THE (M)
CAST: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Eileen Atkins, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson
PRODUCER: Scott Rudin
DIRECTOR: Stephen Daldry
SCRIPT: David Hare (Michael Cunningham, novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey
EDITOR: Peter Boyle
MUSIC: Phillip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Djurkovic
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 20, 2003