The Hours
(directed by Stephen Daldry, based on a novel by Michael Cunningham, adapted by David Hare; 2002)

The Hours is that rare object, a beautifully constructed and clever film that still packs a potent emotional punch. Mirroring the structure of Mrs Dalloway, The Hours portrays three women's lives on a single day. In 1923, Virginia Woolf (an unrecognisable Nichole Kidman) begins to write the novel while struggling with depression; in 1951, suburban housewife and mother Laura (Julianne Moore) begins to read Mrs Dalloway while preparing for her husband's birthday; and in 2001, New York editor Clarissa (Meryl Streep) prepares a party to celebrate her terminally ill ex-lover's poetry award. Like a three-part fugue, the three women's lives repeat, diverge, and occasionally touch.

The acting was so good that it's hard to choose between the three leads. Kidman was so convincing that I simply forgot she was acting most of the time. Streep's performance was subtle, restrained and believable, while Moore conveyed Laura's conflicted feelings perfectly with the minimum of fuss. The minor characters were also excellent, particularly Miranda Richardson as Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell, and Toni Collette as Laura's friend Kitty. The sets and cinematography distinguished between the three time periods without becoming intrusive, and Philip Glass' score generated a sense of enclosure and threat without ever dominating.

A must for anyone who's ever got up and wondered how to get through the hours until bedtime, or tried to write an opening sentence only to get bogged down in the infinite possibilities squandered, or simply tried and failed to perform some trivial task like baking a cake.

28 December 2003