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« Beauty vs. Beast - Black Widow vs. The Hulk | Main | Monologue: Christopher Walken x 2 »
Monday
Mar312014

Women's History Month: Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

Our Women's History Month posts, celebrating real actresses as real women conclude with abstew on Virginia Woolf & The Hours.

Virginia Woolf

Born: Adeline Virginia Stephen was born January 25, 1882 to Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen in London, England. Her father was an author, historian, and critic while her mother was known for her beauty, even posing as a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters. 

stone-filled pockets and golden statues after the jump...


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and Nicole Kidman (1967-) 

Death: Having battled mental illness her entire life, Woolf suffered a depression and began to hear voices that would lead to her suicide. On March 28, 1941, she filled the pockets of her housecoat with stones and walked into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. Her body was not recovered until April 18. Her cremated remains are buried at her home Monk's House which is now open to the public. 

Her Extraordinary Life: An early feminist that bemoaned the lack of formal higher education for women and considered one of the most important figures in early 20th Century Literature, Virginia Woolf is credited for creating the post-modern novel due to her stream of consciousness writing style in books like Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928). A member of the literary circle known as the Bloomsbury Group, it was within this group that she met and eventually married Leonard Woolf. The two set up Hogarth Press in 1917 which published all of Virginia's works (usually with cover art by her sister Vanessa) including the novel-length essay about what it takes to be a female writer, A Room of One's Own.

Nicole Kidman The Hours (2002)

Oscar Nominations Received by the Film: Although nominated for 9 Academy Awards, the film's only win was for Nicole's portrayal of Virginia Woolf for Best Actress. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Daldry), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris), and Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore).

The Other Best Actress Nominees: Salma Hayek Frida, Diane Lane Unfaithful, Julianne Moore Far From Heaven, Renée Zellweger Chicago

By the time Denzel Washington announced that Nicole Kidman had won Best Actress "by a nose" at the 75th Academy Awards, there had already been so much press about how Nicole had transformed herself into Virginia Woolf with a prosthetic nose that his joke seemed to, once again, reduce her performance to little more than that. Hopefully in the 11 years that have passed since then, we can come to see the fully-realized performance for what it is and not just one cosmetic part.

The truth is I absolutely love The Hours. Love the novel by Michael Cunningham. Love Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Love this film. I've watched it so many times over the years and each viewing brings new discoveries. That it stars three of the greatest working actresses doesn't hurt either. Usually when a story is divided into parts, there's one that that doesn't grab you as much but that's blissfully not the case here where all three story lines hold equal weight like three fragments of the same soul.

Unlike a traditional biopic, the film interweaves together 3 women at 3 different times: Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) in the 1950's as she reads the novel, and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) as a modern-day version of Mrs. Dalloway. Other than the bookends of the film which depict Woolf's suicide, the entirety of the film takes place within the confines of one day.

And in that day her whole life." 

Nicole immersed herself completely in playing Virginia Woolf. It was the first time that she played a well-known, real-life woman. The left-handed actress taught herself to write with her right as Woolf did and also learned to imitate the author's handwriting as closely as possible. (The suicide note in the film is actually written by Kidman herself.) She also lowered the register of her voice to make it huskier. But more than the physical transformation, Kidman delves deep into the dark waters of depression, showing us the troubled soul beneath the sharp mind. She is a woman at a constant battle with her own brain. It is the very source of her work and imagination, but at the same time, it fails her as it constantly brings her down with thoughts of failure and despair. (Woolf said the voices she heard were angry men's voices telling her that she wasn't good enough.)

Throughout this one day in the life of Virginia Woolf, we really do get an encapsulation of her entire life. We see her as the muse visits ("Leonard, I believe I may have a first sentence."). We see the relationship she has with her sister Vanessa Bell (Miranda Richardson) who comes with her three children to see how her sister is doing ("I'm saying, Vanessa, that even crazy people like to be asked."). Virginia even comes face to face with death as they have a funeral for a bird so that the creature may return to where she came from. But it all comes to a head when Virginia confronts Leonard (Stephen Dillane) at the train station as she tries to run away to London. She is suffocating within the confines of the small town and stifled by Leonard's constant protection of her. Kidman as Woolf, like a caged bird trying to break free, wails against her treatment, but ultimately reasons with Leonard saying that she would rather die than face the life she has come to know. Leonard eventually gives in, all the while knowing that granting her freedom will ultimately bring about her demise. But just as the two leave the station, Virginia, telling the audience as much as Leonard himself, sums up what we must ultimately take away from the film,

You cannot find peace by avoiding life.

[Lots more on The Hours here. It's one of TFE's favorite communal films]

Previously on Women's History Month

 

 

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Reader Comments (20)

Hi, Nathaniel, when are you going to post your first predictions for 2014 Oscars???? Tomorrow it's April!!!! please do it soon!!!!! :)

I'm in love with your website

you are an inspiration

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHISTERI

The soundtrack for this film is amazing. Everything about this movie is amazing. I think that Meryl Streep never has been closer to a double nomination cause she was incredible in both Adaptation and in The Hours

The train station scene is mesmerizing cause it also gives understanding of freedom and pressure for all the female characters in this movie. Toni Collette is a scene stealer and Julianne Moore has never been more depressive

It was also a strong year for John C. Reilly who had supporting roles in three Best Picture movies: Chicago, The Hours and Gangs of New York

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

She completely deserved to win.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I think people are now apppreiating her win more.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Beautiful piece Nate. That year I would have give Nicole Sup.Actress for that film & Best Actress to Julianne for "Far from Heaven". Still if anyone steal that Oscar from Julianne that was her. And I LOVE her speech.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

I always enjoy an article about my favorite movie. Everything a bout it is a pure perfection - acting, direction, screenplay, music. I would have showered it with awards and particularly Stephen Daldry - his direction is nothing but spectacular. After watching it more than 15 times I have noticed so many small details that elevates the movie in my eyes.
About Nicole - I would have loved to see her win for Moulin Rouge! but the role of Virginia Woolf is so special. It is true that her screen time is the shortest but Nicole's acting is one for the books. She hasn't prepared so much for another role - her voice, her eyes, every move of her body make this performance layered and award worthy. I am not even going to talk about the scene at the train station.
Julianne, Meryl and Ed are spectacular too. In fact, I think that they give career best performances (save for Meryl's Sophie's Choice).
I just realized that I need to talk about this movie. A LOT! It's clear that I am going insane :D

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel B.

That award presentation is so weird. Diane Lane slouching, Julianne Moore looking extremely girly, and Renee Zellweger seemingly off with the fairies. If it couldn't be Julianne then I'm glad it was Nicole. She really is excellent.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Oh, Nicole... Always the years between us. Always, the years. Always, the love. Always... The Hours

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

My sentiments exactly, Glenn. Knew Julianne wasn't going to win, so settling for Nicole was just fine with me, although Meryl's performance in that film is, for me, staggering and the best thing about it. If there wasn't so much category confusion that year I think she would've had that double nom, and deservedly so.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

LOL Glenn, "Renee off with the fairies" indeed.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Nicole blew Meryl out of the water.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdave

We had to deconstruct The Hours in our drama class. The overall conclusion was that Julianne Moore should have won the Best Actress Oscar as the performance she gave was subtle and sublime and more & more people today have come to recognise over the years. Kidman's role, played with a gimmicky pantomime false nose, was horrible overacted (I'm dying in this town!) and consisted of a series of showy dramatic scenes in what sounded like a posh Australian accent. You can listen to the real Virginia Woolf here http://youtu.be/E8czs8v6PuI

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarla

Thankfully, a couple of years after this video Renee did go off with the fairies for good... save that weird appearance at the Oscars last year (though that might have been an android).

@Marla I don't think Kidman overacted at all. That was just what the character (struggling with mental illness and despairing) was like. I think it was Streep, if anyone, who definitely hammed it up. I love this movie but her breakdrown in the kitchen has never quite clicked for me. Maybe I just don't understand her character. Besides that, I'm no dialect expert, but Kidman's on record as saying she didn't want to go for a full-on mimicking of Woolf's voice, as she thought it would've been way too distracting.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

I've seen this movie long before I actually became a Meryl fan and absolutely loved it. I was so impressed with the different characters that were all bound to the novel "Mrs Dalloway".
I d think Virginia Woolf and Laura Brown are more lovable or least more understandable characters than Clarissa Vaughan. I mean, she's not struggling with inner demons or is trapped in a marriage and can't break out (well, at least not right then, because Laura Brown did break out as we get to know later). She's a successful lector in the 2000's and lives with a woman in a relationship. She gives parties. So what the hell is her problem? That her good friend will die of AIDS? That she actually loved him, but could never have him? Please.... That are not real problems, aren't they?

BTW
I once actually had a breakdown in the kitchen and that was more theatric than Clarissa's could ever be.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Anyway, I would also give the BA Qscar to Julanne Moore if I could, but I'm fine with Nicole's win.
All three are leading. Period.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Has Julianne Moore ever looked more gorgeous than in the poster for this movie?

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMB76

I would also give the BA Qscar to Julianne Moore.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDefiro

My favorite movie ever. Nicole is perfection in this movie.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

Julianne owned it.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVinnie

You should write an article on Julianne Moore as she totally stole the movie from Kidman.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKat

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