I've never really enjoyed period pieces because, most of the time, I
don't think they are done very well. Usually, they seem to lack the
urgency that they desperately need so that they become interesting. In
"Mrs. Dalloway," unfortnately, there is no such luck.
At the start of "Mrs. Dalloway," which is set over a period of one day
in 1923, the title character (Vanessa Redgrave), an aging, recently
divorced woman living in England, is preparing for a party that she will
be holding that night. Throughout the day, she reflects back to the life
she once knew when she was a young woman (portrayed by Natascha
McElhone), and had the chance to marry a spontaneous, loving man (Rupert
Graves), but chose instead to play it safe with an uncaring beau.
I rented "Mrs. Dalloway" basically because I thought it might be
interesting, since it is set during a 24-hour period, but what I didn't
count on was for it to be constantly distracting. The film switches
countless times from 1923 to when she was younger, to the point that it
started to feel muddled and painfully episodic. By having the story cut
away so often to other things (and a few subplots I haven't mentioned),
I could never get caught up in Mrs. Dalloway's ultimate search for
happiness. And the way that another story involving a shell-shocked WWI
soldier is interwined with the main one felt convoluted and obvious.
The performances in "Mrs. Dalloway" are not to be faulted. Redgrave is
believable as Mrs. Dalloway, and she looks startlingly like McElhone,
who plays her in the flashbacks. Another performance I admired, but who
was underused, was Katie Carr, as Redgrave's young daughter.
Since the structuring of the story was needlessly drawn out and
unnecessary, I didn't grow to care about any of the characters, and at
the end, when "Mrs. Dalloway," attempts to be moving, it left me cold.
Copyright © 1998 Dustin Putman