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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 03/05/1998,

Mrs. Dalloway

Now that we've seen E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and even Henry James on screen, why not adapt Virginia Woolf? One answer is this self-important piffle from Marlene Gorris, which reduces all that was mysterious and aching in the book to Masterpiece Theatre set designs (the screenwriter, actress Eileen Atkins, was co-creator of the series Upstairs, Downstairs), kneejerk flashbacks, relentless voiceovers in lieu of artful subjectivity, and mannered acting that translates conflicted feeling into portentous ejaculations punctuated with exclamation points and repeated. ("What a day! What a day! For my pah-ty!" as a senselessly beaming Vanessa Redgrave observes in the title role.)

So it's a beautiful June day in London in 1923, and Mrs. Dalloway, aging and ailing hostess to the well-heeled and powerful, sets about buying flowers and what-not for her aforementioned party. Troubling her reverie are intrusive recollections of another June, in 1890, when she was 18 and the world seemed grand (youthful passion indicated by lots of running in starchy period clothing) and she bonded with her coltish, iconoclastic pal Sally (who actually takes off her starchy period clothes and runs around the house -- naked!)

But then there was young Peter (Alan Cox), poor dear, so brash and idealistic, who did seem to draw the best out of her but then was just, too too. Should she have forsaken him for the stuffy, safe solidity of the rich-as-Croesus future MP she finally married? Life is full of tea-colored regrets -- but what a day for her party!

Meanwhile, Mrs Dalloway's path is paralleled by that of shell-shocked veteran Septimus (a haunting Rupert Graves), who flees ghosts of his own past through London's brittle streets. Accompanied by his desperate wife, Lucrezia (Amelia Bullmore), he's besieged by flashbacks of a different kind -- the recurrent specter of fellow soldier Evans advancing despite warnings and being blown to bits. Lost in this adaptation is the suggestion that Evans and Septimus made their pointless sacrifice to let the well-appointed yearnings of Mrs. Dalloway endure, and his uncontrollable alienation bespeaks the anomie she represses. He is not a dark mirror of the torn psyche beneath Mrs. Dalloway's elegant composure but a reproach to her trifling superficiality -- and the film's. At the Nickelodeon (tentative), the Kendall Square, and the West Newton and in the suburbs.

-- Peter Keough