With all due respect to Natascha McElhone - who is a fine actress in her own right - where "Mrs. Dalloway" goes wrong is in giving her so much screen time instead of Vanessa Redgrave.
Both women play different ages of the title character in this World War I-period drama, based on the novel by Virginia Woolf. But Red-grave makes so much with the limited time she has that you'll probably wish the story had concentrated on the character's later years instead.And that's really not the fault of either McElhone or director Marleen Gorris ("Antonia's Line"). Instead, the problem lies with Woolf, whose complex story structure is virtually impossible to reproduce on the screen. But thanks to Redgrave's dazzling turn and some other fine performances, Gorris and screenwriter Eileen Atkins come reasonably close.
The film takes place over a single day as the now 50something Clarissa Dalloway (Redgrave) prepares for a party she's hosting that night. But rather than fret about it, she actually spends the time remembering a series of "safe" decisions she made at crucial times in her life, such as marrying a successful politician.
While wandering the streets of London later that day, she is startled by the appearance of a shell-shocked war veteran (Rupert Graves), a weird confrontation that makes her wonder if she made the right choices after all.
And during the party she sees two old friends, her Bohemian childhood friend Lady Sally Rosseter (Sarah Badel) and Peter Walsh (Michael Kitchen), an old sweetheart who has never gotten over her.
Admittedly, the pacing is a little too slow in the flashback sequences, and there are some odd subplots (including a brief lesbian flirtation between the young Clarissa and Sally), but things pick up considerably during the party scenes, highlighted by Redgrave's droll voiceover comments about the guests.
Kudos also to Gorris for great casting moves (McElhone looks like a younger Redgrave, while the resemblance between Kitchen and Alan Cox, playing the younger Peter, is uncanny).
"Mrs. Dalloway" is rated PG-13 for some wartime violence, brief female nudity and a couple of profanities.