The Hours - ticking down to Oscar success?

Preview by Jack Foley

A STRONG female cast is currently winning praise from all quarters in America for their performances in The Hours, a new film from director, Stephen Daldry, based on the Pullitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham.

Spanning 80 years, the film tells the story of three women who are connected in some way by the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

Firstly, there is Ms Woolf herself (portrayed by Nicole Kidman), who lives in Richmond and is battling insanity as she begins to write her great novel, Mrs Dalloway. Then there’s Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a wife and mother in Los Angeles at the end of the Second World War, who is reading Mrs Dalloway and finds it so revelatory that she begins to consider making a devastating change in her life.

And finally, there is Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), living in contemporary New York, who is in love with her friend, Richard (Ed Harris), a brilliant poet dying of AIDs.

All three stories intertwine and finally come together in a surprising, transcendent moment of shared recognition.

The film, which is produced by Scott Rudin and Robert Fox from a screenplay by David Hare, has won almost universal acclaim from critics in America, while also notching up seven Golden Globe nominations.

It co-stars the likes of Toni Collette, Claire Danes, John C Reilly, Stephen Dillane and Miranda Richardson and was also named best film of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, whose annual top 10 (announced at the beginning of December) traditionally kicks off the film awards season that culminates with the Oscars.

Julianne Moore was named best actress by the Los Angeles film critics for her performances in both The Hours and Far From Heaven - another strong Oscar contender.

US Verdict...

Of the main US critics frequently quoted, only Slant magazine slated The Hours, referring to it as ‘a preposterous faux-feminist manifesto’, while Film Journal International felt that it ‘only partially succeeds in capturing the book's lived textures’.

But the New York Times referred to it as ‘an amazingly faithful screen adaptation of a novel that would seem an unlikely candidate for a movie’, while Variety noted that ‘considerable intelligence and strategic finesse have been brought to bear on this handsomely mounted adaptation’.

Planet Sick-Boy awarded it eight out of ten and described it as ‘a very good film’, while Salon said that it was ‘a lovingly crafted meditation on death, loss and literature’.

The New York Post awarded it three out of four and said that the film boasts ‘solid performances by Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore - and much more from Nicole Kidman as author Virginia Woolf’, while FimCritic.com felt that it was ‘made bearable by its three powerful leads’.

The Chicago Tribune, which awarded it three out of four, agreed that ‘there's much to appreciate here, particularly in the three leading female performances’, while E! Online confessed that ‘not much happens here, but, boy, is it intense’. It awarded it a B.

Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, said that it was ‘fascinating and ultimately successful’, but Entertainment Weekly awarded it only a B- and wrote: "A viewer can forget about Woolf, not care a fig about Cunningham, and just bathe - soak, more like - in the voluptuous sadnesses of Mss. Woolf, Brown, and Vaughan, delineated with such refinement by Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep...

"In fact, a viewer is better off doing so, because somewhere between Woolf, Cunningham, and this handsome, unsubtle, hell-bent-for-Oscar production, a written work meant to feel liquid has become a cinematic solid."

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