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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.

An exceptional DVD package for this exceptional film, it’s hard to single out one highlight from the many special features, but the two audio commentaries - one with Kidman, Moore and Streep, the other with director Daldry and writer Cunningham – are first class. Kidman, Moore and Streep give fascinating insights into not only their characters but also how they work. Kidman confides that she almost goes into a trance-like state, but finds it hard to watch the film and be objective about her performance. By reading Virginia Woolf’s letters, she was able to get an access into her psyche, she says: ‘I fell in love with her and wanted to honour her on screen.’ 

Cunningham and Daldry’s commentary is equally interesting as they inject humour, intellect and compassion into their conversation. There are six featurettes – I found the one about the music (interviews with Phillip Glass and Daldry) of particular interest as music plays such an important role in tying the three stories together. The Three Women feature brings interviews with the three actresses together – they even talk about each other’s performances – as well as Daldry’s intimate insight into both their casting and working with each of them. We are also taken on set to watch scenes being shot – from Woolf’s pivotal drowning sequence to Clarissa’s emotional breakdown in the kitchen.

Hours and hours are warranted to enjoy this DVD that is densely packed with highly recommended special features. 

Published September 25, 2003

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CAST: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Eileen Atkins, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson

DIRECTOR: Stephen Daldry

SCRIPT: David Hare (Michael Cunningham, novel)

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 transfer for dual layered format; widescreen; Dolby digital 5.1;

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Music of The Hours; Three Women; Filmmakers introduction; The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf; The Lives of Mrs Dalloway; Theatrical Trailer; audio commentary by Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Stree; audio commentary by director Stephen Daldry and novelist Michael Cunningham;


DVD RELEASE: September 17, 2003

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