So, even as I'm rusty from doing these write-ups, on we go.
Set-Up: In 1923 Virginia Woolf is battling her own mental issues as she prepares to write her Mrs Dalloway. She narrates earlier “a woman’s whole life in a single day….and in that day, her whole life.” And, as we observe Virginia, and Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan in their single days we get a glimpse into their own lives. And, ostensibly, Virginia’s day seems the most banal. A first line to her novel, a tiff with the maid, a visit from a visiting sister – hardly anything momentous. And yet… a visit from her sister precipitates so much....
VIRGINIA: “And how are you, sister?”
VANESSA: “Frantic, it's been ridiculous in London.”
I love that shot above, two sisters. The Hours is filled with a myriad of beautiful images. But, the thing with the beautiful images is that they don’t last very long. The overarching similarity through the timelines is the dissatisfaction each woman feels with her life, and Virginia is particularly pointed throughout about her resentment of the world she is forced to inhabit. And, her sister is aware. For example, even in that seemingly tranquil image above Vanessa countenance seems un-relaxed, and she’s choosing her words carefully.
VIRGINIA: “Ridiculous? How?”
VIRGINIA: “Why is busy ridiculous?”
I tend to forget how prickly a character Nicole’s Virginia is. Even as she’s working with so much narration and has so many excellent pointed lines of dialogue to work with – her expression are ace.
VANESSA: “I would've invited you to our party, but... I knew you wouldn't come.”
And, converse to Virginia’s accusatory glare is Vanessa’s face of trepidation. Of course, part of the dilemma of Cunningham’s novel seeming unadaptable is the wealth of backstory which underlies seemingly incidental things like this conversation. There is all the history of Virginia and Vanessa’s filial relationship. Then, there’s the added history of Virginia’s resentment – Vanessa is free to go to the city as she pleases. Free to live her life out of confinement. And, Hare with his script wisely decides not to pack the screenplay with explanatory dialogue. The basic tenets are there, the actors fill in the blanks.
VIRGINIA: “Did you? How did you know that?”
VANESSA: “I thought you never came to town.”
VIRGINIA: “That's because you no longer ask me.”
VANESSA: “Are you not forbidden to come? Do the doctors not forbid it?”
After the main four (Virginia, Laura, Clarissa and Richard) I’m most appreciative of the work Miranda and Stephen turn in. Miranda would probably make my top 10 supporting women of the year and it’s so much more demure performance from her than I’m used to. To counteract the multitudes of internal thought lost in the book’s translation to the screen I feel like the actors are forced – even more than usual – to act through their expressions. And Vanessa and Virginia are telling so much with their looks.
VIRGINIA: “Oh, the doctors!”
VANESSA: “Do you not pay heed to your doctors?”
VIRGINIA: “Not when they are a bunch of contemptible Victorians!”
VANESSA: “So, what are you saying? Are you feeling better? Has this vastness made you stronger?”
VIRGINIA: “I'm saying, Vanessa, that even crazy people like to be asked.”
That line lands like a thud as we move from what should have been a tranquil conversation between sisters into…
And a potential argument moves to a rumination on dead things....
....more below the jump....
QUENTIN (OS): “Nessa, Nessa, Nessa...”
I love how as Quentin and the others arrive we move from Virginia’s despondent face to Vanessa, not quite guilty but certainly feeling badly and her face changes to accommodate the children as she asks….
VANESSA: “Hello changelings. What have you got?”
VANESSA (OS): “What have you found?”
And, once again, Virginia is shut out.
QUENTIN: “We found a bird.”
VANESSA: “Did you? Where did you find that?”
QUENTIN: “I think he must have fallen from a tree.”
There’s so much going on in the image immediately above. Miranda’s face as Vanessa is being almost farcically invested in her children. Then Quentin with the bird as the silent Angelica observes. Then, there is (historically, legendary at least) violent Julian disinterested in all and Virginia looming almost like a Grim Reaper in the middle, destroying the peaceful potential of the shot. (Also, I love the entire ensemble on Miranda which you can’t see too well there. Ann Roth’s costume’s are excellent in this.)
VANESSA: “Oh my Goodness! Just look at him.”
QUENTIN: “We might be able to save him.”
VANESSA: “Save him? I think you have to be careful, Quentin.There's a time to die, and it may be the bird's time...”
I love how we return to Virginia on the final half of the final sentence…. Death is such an important thing for her.
JULIAN: “Let's pick some grass to make a grave.”
(I also love how almost all the shots here are being “destroyed” by the presence of that looming statue.)
VANESSA: “Oh, Julian!”
JULIAN: “I'm just saying, he at least needs a bed to die on.”
QUENTIN (OS): “Come on, Nessa, let's make a grave!”
QUENTIN: “Nessa, come on!”
VANESSA: “God, very well, I'm coming wait for me there!”
VANESSA (OS): “Angelica, we'll be allright, stay with your aunt. You're going too fast, ooh!”
VIRGINIA: “Do you think she'd like roses?”
Notice how the bush of flowers almost seem to be making a halo around Virginia’s head?
ANGELICA: “Is this a "she"?”
VIRGINIA: “Yes, the females are larger and less colourful.”
ANGELICA: “What happens when we die?”
VIRGINIA: “What happens? We return to the place that we came from.”
Remember what I was saying about the importance of the facial expressions? There’s an entire significant narrative bit in the novel where Virginia ponders on this moment and there’s a wealth of words that – one may argue – is lost in translation. And, yet, Nicole’s expressions just devastate me. When considering Nicole’s performance as an Oscar worthy one, people tend to remember the train station scene (truly, every beat of her performance is on point for me). But, the louder beats of that scene are not what define her performance. It’s the silent scenes where her effectiveness is most prominent.
ANGELICA: “I don't remember where I came from.”
Child actress Sophie Wyburd is just precious in this scene.
VIRGINIA: “Nor do I.”
ANGELICA: “She's very small.”
VIRGINIA: “Yes...yes, that's one of the things that happen... We look smaller.”
ANGELICA: “But very peaceful.”
VANESSA: “Is it done? Have you finished? Is the bird funeral complete?”
VANESSA: “Well then, are we going to be denied altogether for coming so early?”
VIRGINIA: “No, of course not.”
VANESSA: “Come on, come on, boys, we'll have a cup of tea. Oh, stop it, Julian! Julian, come inside!”
(I know, I know, what a morbid return for Scene on a Sunday.)
Check out all the Scene on a Sundays all the way from Annie Hall to Titanic to Funny Girl.
Do Nicole’s silence impress you? Which part of the scene impresses more? Vanessa and Virginia’s conversation or the bird funeral?