Sunday, March 20, 2011

Movie Adaptation: Mrs. Dalloway

After a long weekend with Acton, Victoria and Adam in East Hampton, I unwound Sunday evening by watching the 1997 Marleen Gorris adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway. There are potential pitfalls in a movie version of Woolf's classic since so much of Mrs. Dalloway's splendor lies in the prose. But Gorris manages to create a fine, lasting interpretation of Woolf's book.

This was in part due to the insanely good acting, for sure. Vanessa Redgrave as the older Mrs. Dalloway is luminous and sage; Natasha McElhone as the younger Mrs. Dalloway and Lena Headly as Sally perfectly encapsulate the girls' complex relationship. (I was inspired to pick up Orlando after reading that the Sally-Clarissa dynamic pays homage to the famous Virginia-Vita Sackville West affair). Peter was played by a Robert Downey Jr. look alike, no joke, named Alan Cox and was a joy to watch.

The movie makes clear the comparison, which Woolf intended, between the clinically depressed Septimus and the trenchant frippery of Mrs. Dalloway. Septimus goes to the war, faces his demons and kills himself; Dalloway chooses comfort over love, fills her days with parties and dress mending- but endures.

In the book, we're lead through Mrs. Dalloway's London by a motley host of characters. But the two ideological figure heads of the novel are clearly D & S. In some of Virginia Woolf's earliest notes on the book she says, "I adumbrate here a study of insanity & suicide: the world seen by the sane and insane side by side."

The movie, without the syntactical fireworks Woolf is known for, distills and clarifies her thematic vision, which is helpful if your not reading the book in a college English class.  It's the perfect companion piece. Let us know what you think!

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