The Hours

USA/UK  (2002)
Dir: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris

Hollywood's attempt at making more "Bloomsbury" high-brow drama, this ends up looking a little inconsequential and pretentious, but not through lack of effort from the cast of characters. Kidman is dreadfully mis-cast as Virginia Woolf (complete with false nose) in this multi-layered story based on Michael Cunningham's novel, which draws heavily from Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway". Three women in different eras all grapple with their lives with echoes of Mrs. Dalloway running throughout. Streep is most apt in her role as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Clarissa, who is in a relationship with another woman (Sally, but not Seton!) but hopelessly hooked on her past ex-boyfriend, AIDS-ridden and embittered gay poet Richard. Then there is the 1950's "perfect" housewife Moore who harbours furtive desires and tries to end her repressed, frustrated life in a hotel room, despite living in a so-called American dream.

And then there is the story of Woolf herself, who is portrayed as a woman dangerously unhinged, obsessed with death as much as she is with writing her novel. All the action takes place in a single day (apart from the Woolf story, but there is no indication to any moviegoer unfamiliar with Woolf's life that she actually only drowned herself two decades after the time the "snippet" was set in). Kidman was thrown in the deep end and did not ever redeem herself; her Woolf was stilted and forced, although the Freudian mother-child scenes with Vanessa Bell were quite bold.

Unfortunately, although Streep excels in her histrionic, slightly-unhinged role, I couldn't help but feel that too much was crammed into one film - three women's disparate, unhappy and unfulfilled lives deserve more than such short-shrift treatment, and ultimately, it was more Hollywood than real life. But it deserves to be commended for its sympathetic and non-sensationalist treatment of sapphic relationships, which is somewhat brave for a film intended for mainstream consumption.

Rating: 6.5

Howard's End

UK (1992)
Dir: James Ivory

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Samuel West, James Wilby

A typically lavish period Merchant Ivory production, Howard's End is based on the book by E.M Forster and is an intriguing study of the different social classes existing in 1920's England and their interactions. Two sisters from a middle-class, philanthropic and humanist family have their own encounters with the monied arisotracy (the Wilcoxes) who own a cottage in Howard's End. I saw this movie a long time ago and my one lasting memory of it is of a young man walking through a bluebell wood in the mist, set to ravisingly beautiful music. I have not been able to see a bluebell wood without thinking of this scene, and thus, this is probably as good a reason as any to watch this film!

Rating: 6.5

Copyright 2003 ArtemisWorks