Lovely and ruminative, the film version of "Mrs. Dalloway" is like a sweetly melancholic song. But the tune does not pierce the heart as it should.
Adapted by Eileen Atkins from the Virginia Woolf novel, Marleen Gorris' film stars a radiant Vanessa Redgrave as the elder Mrs. Dalloway. Delicate, good-natured and most interested in the happiness of those around her, she prepares for a party that conveniently (for the narrative, at least) brings together the people she knew in her youth.
As she strolls through pretty 1923 London and buys flowers, Mrs. Dalloway thinks back on the time when, as a young woman (played by Natascha McElhone), she gave up the love of a conflicted and passionate man who believed in her strength in favor of a life of quiet comfort with the handsome Dalloway.
She crosses paths with but never meets a shell-shocked World War I veteran (Rupert Graves) who is haunted by the most innocuous of sounds -- a droning airplane, a crying baby -- as he cries out to die.
Graves, so often cast as the pretty boy, is compellingly disturbing here and seems the one anchor in this dreamy story of quelled regret. His delusions reveal the chaos seething under quiet postwar London and, ironically, are much more tangible than the whispery world of Mrs. Dalloway's memories.
McElhone ("The Devil's Own") shines with light and innocence as the young Clarissa Dalloway, and Alan Cox (the pastry-loving Watson in "Young Sherlock Holmes") is full of righteous fire as her suitor Peter (played as an older man by Michael Kitchen).
As fascinating as they are, their lives seem of little consequence as seen through the prism of Mrs. Dalloway's party. They may still be searching for truth, but they give us only a dance.
Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone, Rupert Graves
Directed by Marleen Gorris
Released by First Look Pictures
Rated PG-13 (brief nudity, implied violence)
Sun Score: ** 1/2
Pub Date: 3/20/98