Let’s Hear It For The Ladies: The Hours

The Hours is a beautiful, haunting look at the complicated lives of three women connected by the work of Virginia Woolf

THE HOURS (2002)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Released by Miramax Pictures
114 minutes

The Hours is a complicated film.   It may not have the charm or accessibility of director Stephen Daldry’s previous work Billy Elliot (2000), but what it lacks in feel goody-ness, it makes up for in spades with the brilliance of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman.   This combined with the hypnotic score and fantastic script makes The Hours a devastating yet beautiful look into the lives of women.

While separated by time, geography and social standing, the women of The Hours all share a hard life and a connection to the novel “Mrs. Dalloway”.   In 1923 in the London suburb of Richmond, Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is in the early stages of the writing process for Mrs. Dalloway.   Virginia’s loved ones including husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane) and Sister Vanessa (Miranda Richardson) try their best to help her along, but being around manic depressive Virginia is not always easy.

In 2001 in New York City, book editor Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is giving a party for her best friend and former lover Richard (Ed Harris) who’s dying of AIDS.   Richard’s nickname for Clarissa is “Mrs. Dalloway” and indeed it seems that Clarissa is the living version of Woolf’s famous character.

Finally in 1951 in Los Angeles Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is a pregnant housewife who would much rather be reading Mrs. Dalloway then have anything to do with her family.   She’s miserable staying home all day and as she reads Woolf’s book Laura contemplates ending her life just like Virginia did.   In the simplest of terms the three women in the film represent the author, the character and the reader.

Each actress brings such depth and intensity to their roles that it seems a shame that they all didn’t win Oscars for their performances (Kidman won best actress that year at the Oscars).   Personally my favourite of the leads was Moore.   Although she’s essentially played the sad 50s housewife a million times already, Moore manages to make it fresh and interesting every time she does it.

A great actor like Julianne Moore or Ed Harris can always help a bad movie from going too wrong, but when it gets down to it a film can’t truly be great without a strong script.   David Hare’s script is not only a wonderful and loyal adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s book, but it has some of the most beautiful language ever uttered on film.

All the actors in this film are incredibly strong, even the supporting characters. While each of the leads goes through a tough emotional journey in the film, the partners of the women really have the hardest roles.

It would be an easy explanation that the women were depressed because they had horrible husbands, but none of the partners: Dillane as Leonard Woolf, John C. Riley as Laura’s husband Dan Brown, or Allison Janney as Clarissa’s lover Sally Lester are bad people. Each in their own way loves the women in their lives and tries to make life as happy as possible for them. But as it unfortunately sometimes goes, life has other plans and sometimes love isn’t all you need.

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