I must admit to being genuinely baffled by some of the negative criticism this magnificent film has received since its release. Film goers lament endlessly the lack of thought provoking intelligence, quality acting and indeed scarcity of gripping roles for women in Hollywood, but when a film comes along that offers all three qualities in abundance, all they seem to do is pick holes in it!
For what it's worth I believe 'The Hours' to be a landmark film, a beautifully created masterpiece, and a crucial work for women to see - both as spectators, and for future actresses in terms of the opportunities its success will (hopefully) open up.
Aesthetically, 'The Hours' is endlessly beautiful. It's apt that the film opens with a river, because its beauty simply washes over you as the story unfolds. Each moment is lovingly agonised over by Stephen Daldry, whose attention to detail is second to none. The result is an absolute visual feast of stunning imagery - flowers, water, and nature. I adored the evocative manner in which the three different settings [contemporary New York, 1940s Los Angeles and Richmond] were signalled in the lighting, and this was aided immeasurably by simply glorious costuming and make-up.
David Hare has transformed Michael Cunningham's wonderful homage to Virginia Woolf into a mesmerising screenplay - literate, moving, profound and riveting. I love the effortless way his words move you, and engage your brain at the same time. This is rare in today's cinema.
Perhaps, however, the single most remarkable facet of 'The Hours' is (for me) the acting. The cast - one that I would have dreamed about before hearing of this film - could not be bettered. Each of the three primary actresses, Streep, Moore and Kidman, is impeccable in their own way and I suspect individual disposition will dictate whose story moves you the most. I only hope their resounding achievment here will be rewarded by a plethora of intelligent scripts for women in the future.
Much praise has been lauded onto Nicole Kidman, and let me say that her achievments go far beyond make-up, dowdy dresses and the prosthetic nose that critics have become so obsessed with. Her piercing blue eyes (said to have the ability to scorch holes in carpet by one critic) succeed in capturing the essence of Woolf's fractured emotion, and the depth of her performance is truly outstanding. She is also intensely moving and at times painful to watch. Julianne Moore - a remarkably versatile actress - is magnificent as Laura Brown, the introspective, lonely housewife. She has an amazingly expressive face and haunting eyes, making dialogue hardly necessary in conveying her deep unhapiness, a performance almost suited to silent cinema. Again, her story was at times intensely painful.
And finally to Meryl Streep who is, for me, the finest of the three (although this is an ensemble performance - the three should all be rewarded for their acting together) I found her energetic, elegant, graceful and powerful. She invested Clarissa which such an enthusiasm for life and an energy - plus a subdued longing - and I found her performance explosive. Take note small minded producers - we need more Meryl on the screen. Her humanity and charisma is boundless. Give me her over 1000 twenty-something non entities any day.
Special mentions also to Stephen Dillane (magnificent and underrated as Leonard Woolf) Toni Collette (her kiss with Julianne Moore is possibly the tenderest moment in the film) Miranda Richardson (always excellent) and Ed Harris (a great, moving performance from him) All of these actors and others help to allow this film to live in the minds of those who see it and are moved by it for long after the credits roll.
I want to end by applauding all involved in the creation of an exquisite, lyrical masterpiece. I found it at times heartbreaking, yet strangely enriching and even life affirming, despite its potentially morose themes of suicide and depression. It left me with the desire to find out more about Virginia Woolf, and to look at my own life in a different way. Surely this has to speak volumes for the overriding success of this wonderful film. Awards shouldn't matter, but I hope it sweeps the board at this year's Oscars. It deserves its success and as a humble film-goer, I will be eternally thankful for its existence.
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