Mrs. Dalloway

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Mrs. Dalloway

You'd think the tricky structure Virginia Woolf uses throughout Mrs. Dalloway would prohibit a faithful film adaptation. The 1925 novel transpires over the course of one day and employs a variety of seemingly untranslatable narrative techniques—streams of consciousness that flow into unexpected flashbacks, asides that cover pages of the novel but take place over the course of a split second, etc. An aged socialite pines for her youth as a seemingly unrelated, shell-shocked soldier roams the street, beset with visions of impending doom. This is generally not the stuff of cinema, but Dutch director Marleen Gorris (Antonia's Line) and a talented cast headed by a radiant Vanessa Redgrave make the transition from page to screen nearly seamless. Deceptive first appearances indicate another stuffy Merchant/Ivory-style film, but the actors infuse their characters with a warmth and vibrancy missing from so many period pieces. Redgrave in particular, as the older Mrs. Dalloway, is transfixing, aglow with a combination of confidence and vulnerability. Often playing against her own omnipresent voiceover, Redgrave explores every variation of subtle facial expressions, investing each twitch of the lip and gleam of the eye with a world of meaning. Natascha McElhone, as her younger counterpart, is similarly adept at illustrating the quandary of balancing two suitors whose attributes couldn't be more at odds. McElhone must choose her fate, and Redgrave must live with the decision made by her younger self; wondering whether she made the right choice, a despondent Redgrave copes with feelings of self-doubt as she plans a dinner party. Has her life been one long façade? Is it ever too late to start over? Mrs. Dalloway is that rare film that addresses these issues of aging, regret, and mortality without ever getting bogged down in a morass of excessive sentimentality. It's a wonderful, talkative film that should leave most viewers rapt with reverent silence.