The drama of The Hours is thus: Woolf is writing Mrs. Dalloway, Sarah Brown--preggers--is reading Mrs. D in 1950's U.S. suburbia, and Clarissa Vaughn is unknowingly living Mrs. D in 2001 New York. The film begins with Woolf standing in a river and ends with her drowning herself in a river. Each plot is a day in the life of a woman. Sarah Brown bakes a birthday cake for her husband and questions her life. Clarissa prepares for a party and painfully reminisces with old friends. Woolf has a visit with her sister and tries to escape her small town life. There are surprises and twists. And of course, 3 lesbian kisses, evenly distributed.
This is the umpteenth time I've seen The Hours. I honestly thought the first time I saw it would be the last. It seemed like Michael Cunningham, author of the novel The Hours, was just working out his mommy issues and his obsession with Mrs. D. But then I thought, "There is totally something up with Richard's robe." I watched it again. "OMG his robe matches"--SPOILER ALERT--"his childhood bed sheets!" The second time I watched it, I became obsessed. I noticed the blue and yellow color scheme, how Clarissa and Richard's dad point at Richard in just the same way, and how familiar that woman in the flower shop looked (Eileen Atkins who played Virginia Woolf in "A Room of One's Own" and wrote the screen play for "Mrs. Dalloway"). I love connections and The Hours is full of them. I also love Philip Glass, the composer for the film.
Reading Mrs. D only fed the obsession. I looked for connections with the book. Obviously, there were many. Furthermore, I felt that the pacing of the film and the weaving together the present with the past were wonderfully Woolfian. But what, then, does the film have to offer? It celebrates life. So does Mrs. D. It explores the ambiguity of sexuality. So does Mrs. D. It plays out the legacy of a masterpiece. So does--just read Mrs. D. The Hours, being based on a novel that was inspired by a novel, has a manifold challenge: it must contribut something that its predecessors do not. Perhaps, in that sense, the film fails.
The Hours has this going for it; it's a movie and a beautiful one. Mrs. D is not accessible to all people and The Hours provides a lovely treatment of the themes explored by Woolf. So if you can't read Mrs. D, watch The Hours. Woolf's characters are so elaborate and real that any reinterpretation of them will be interesting. Cunningham has a wonderful imagination and Stephen Daldry, director, knows how to make a film. My reaction comes from someone who's studied the film and Mrs. D many times. If you asked me years ago, in my youth, I'd say that the film was quite moving.