As we’ve seen throughout the course of this blog, plenty of Oscar nominees and winners been based on well-known pieces of literature. However, the next film on hour list; 2003 nominee The Hours is rather uniquely inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. David Hare’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s novel focuses on three women who are all touched by the book in different ways.
The first story concentrates on Woolf herself as she begins to write Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 whilst at the same time dealing with her various emotional issues. The second story is set in suburban Los Angeles during the early 1950s and deals with Laura Brown who is reading Mrs. Dalloway. Finally, in modern day New York, Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her dying poet friend Richard who refers to her as Mrs. Dalloway. Despite their disparate time lines and settings; all of the three women who The Hours concentrates on have plenty of similarities. All of three are suffering from mental problems of all kinds; with Virginia struggling with her countryside surroundings, Laura considering suicide and Claudia busying herself with party planning to blot out her insecurities. All three women also have feelings for the same sex whether it be on show, such as Claudia’s lesbian relationship with her long term partner, or kept behind closed doors. What I liked about Hare’s screenplay was the fact that he kept all three storylines ticking along nicely and made sure that we didn’t forget about any one thread. If I’m honest, the least interesting of the three stories was that of Woolf herself who was a little bit too precious to ever care about that much. I enjoyed the subtlety of the Laura storyline and its exploration of the dark underbelly of 1950s suburbia. Meanwhile, Claudia’s tale was full of regret and had a rather shocking scene towards the end of it. One element of the final scenes I wasn’t particularly keen on was the way that Claudia and Laura’s scenes linked together however it did make sense to the overall tale.
Interestingly all three of The Hours’ lead actresses were nominated at that year’s ceremony however only two of them were representing that film. Despite giving the weakest turn of the three, Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Virginia Woolf netted her that year’s Best Actress prize. I would agree with those who theorised that the reason that she was given the award was for putting on a prosthetic nose that made her look only slightly detracted from her overall beauty. Kidman did little to make me care about the Woolf scenes which only perked up with the arrival of Miranda Richardson as her lively sister. Even though she was on screen longer, Julianne Moore was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her tender portrayal of Laura Brown; a woman who was on the verge of ending it all. Moore was also nominated for Best Actress that year for a similar turn in Far From Heaven however I think her performance in The Hours was slightly better. Oddly the best performance of the trio, which came from Meryl Streep, failed to garner a nomination with the actress instead being recognised for her turn in Adaptation. I think that Streep delivered one of her greatest performances as the bisexual Claudia who was hanging on to the one summer she spent with the love of her life, Richard.
As Richard, Ed Harris was a revelation and I feel that he should have won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year that ultimately went to Streep’s Adaptation co-star Chris Cooper. Aside from the fine performances and well-paced plot, Philip Glass’ ever-present score deserves a mention even if it did make some of the scenes feel slightly overblown. This was my first time watching The Hours and I have to admit that I rather liked it even if Kidman’s scenes as Woolf bored me a little. It was great to see a female-centric tale garner so much acclaim and I found it to be an easy-to-watch, well-written film.