Picks and Pans Review: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

updated 03/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone

On a lovely summer's day in 1923 London, Clarissa Dalloway, the proper, middle-aged wife of a politician, tries to focus her energies on the party she's throwing that night. But the past accompanies her everywhere. She remembers herself as an unformed young lady (McElhone), elated yet scared by the impulsive tug of her desires—desires ultimately repressed by her conventional marriage. Elsewhere in the city that same day, far outside Mrs. Dalloway's charmed but constricted circle, a shell-shocked veteran (Rupert Graves) is losing a battle against despair.

He has my sympathy.

It's not surprising that a movie of Mrs. Dalloway would miss the essence of Virginia Woolf's novel: Through the consciousness of one woman, we not only hear the roar of a whole city but sense the ebb, the flow, the evanescence of the lives in it. Surely, however, a movie Dalloway didn't have to be badly acted. The entire cast is insipid, giddy or just plain twitty. Even Redgrave strikes the wrong note. Prattling on about her fĂȘte (or, as she grandly pronounces it, "my paaaaah-teeeeeee"), she's insufferably radiant. Someone fetch a lampshade for Mrs. Dalloway's head. (PG-13)

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