Virginia Woolf is literary Marmite - rich, dark, and repellent to at least 50% of the population. Those 50% might be swayed by the current Oscar buzz or even the prospect of lesbian action, but should be warned: The Hours aims to stimulate a little higher above the belt. An adaptation of a novel by Michael Cunningham, the film plays like a dramatic deconstruction of Woolf's 1923 novel Mrs Dalloway. The effect is lyrical and surprisingly uplifting - if you're willing to invest full attention.
The story unfolds over three different eras. Clarissa (Meryl Streep) is the modern-day Dalloway, consumed with the minutiae of high-society living. Laura (Julianne Moore) is a post-war housewife who squirms within the mould and strongly identifies with Woolf's heroine. The thread pulling them together is Woolf herself (Nicole Kidman) as she obsesses over the Dalloway manuscript.
"THANKFULLY AVOIDS SYRUPY SENTIMENTALITY"
It all sounds rather banal, and yet the struggles faced by these women are skilfully entwined to reveal the magnitude of life, even for those who lead a seemingly small existence. Director Stephen Daldry explored this theme with "Billy Elliot", except here he thankfully avoids syrupy sentimentality.
Working from David Hare's script, the dialogue is authentic, muscular, and punctuated by moments of shared realisation, all of which keep the minutes of The Hours flying by. Beneath that latex lump on her face, Kidman deftly captures the stillness and mania of the clinically depressed Woolf. Moore's porcelain vulnerability is heightened by an underlying sense of bewilderment, and Streep does wistful melancholy as a matter of routine.
You'll find poignant moments and truly poetic ones here, although none that are intensely moving. The Hours is a purely intellectual exercise, with Daldry never quite bridging the emotional gap that would have elevated this from excellence to greatness. Nevertheless, it's a brilliantly conceived observation of life. The Hours is one for the ages.