The One Where I Harp on Nicole Kidman's Accent in The Hours---for HOURS

I was around thirteen years old when The Hours came out in theaters. It was conveniently rated PG-13, so there was nothing my mom could say when I begged her to take me to see it. I made a point of reading the book before I saw the movie and The Hours was one of the few films that I didn't have to say was better than the book. I loved them equally. I bought The Hours pretty soon after the DVD was released and when I lost my copy somewhere between Florida and New York, I promptly bought a digital version off of iTunes. The movie provided the background each time I opened Mrs. Dalloway and again when I wrote the paper. I feel like I know The Hours like the back of my hand, but every time I watch it, I notice something different. That doesn't mean that I don't have some major issues with the characters or the actors who played them.

Normally, I think that Nicole Kidman is an excellent actress. She somehow manages to make breathiness into a plausible character trait for every role she plays: Satine in Moulin Rouge--breathy because of consumption; Grace in The Others--breathy because she was dead; Ada in Cold Mountain--breathy because she's...Southern? But this doesn't really work when playing a real person. As a thirteen-year-old, I'm not sure I even knew who Virginia Woolf was and after seeing The Hours, I didn't know much more (She wrote. She killed herself. The end, right?). Once I actually started to study Woolf, however, and began to research her life, I discovered this, the last audio recording of Woolf in existence, on the BBC website. I was a more than a little surprised and disappointed to find that Kidman sounded nothing like Woolf. Sure, every actor doesn't have to sound like the person they're playing and, okay, maybe Kidman didn't have access to this recording (the site was last update in October of 2008), it is all about how believable they are as the character and we can't really use Woolf herself as a measuring-stick for Kidman's portrayal of Woolf and on and on. But this breathiness, that Kidman has brought to every role I've seen her in, distorts our perception of Woolf.

Go on and give that recording a listen. Woolf's voice alone is a pretty striking thing. To me, it sounds almost like every exagerrated, stereotypical impression of British snobbery that I've ever heard. That voice is the way we were encouraged to speak in my high school acting class, when first learning the British dialect. Woolf's voice isn't breathy at all, it's strong and clear and, in not giving the audience that impression, Kidman offers us a very one-sided portrayal of Woolf. By changing her voice, Kidman transforms Woolf from a strong woman (albeit one afflicted by mental illness) to one that is weak and vulnerable, like the dead bird Angelica wants to give a funeral for. For some people, The Hours may be the only glimpse of Woolf they ever get, and Kidman should've made it a good one--not turning Woolf into someone so melancholy and frail that one was almost glad to see her go.

There's also been a discussion about the character of Laura Brown (Julianne Moore). I don't find Laura admirable (like Justine), but I also don't find her irresponsible (like Pat). Or maybe I think that she's both of those things. Honestly, I didn't ever think much at all of Laura Brown until she became the subject of such heated discussion on this blog. I thought she was a little boring, only meant to serve as a somewhat-clever bridge between the writing of Mrs. Dalloway (1923) and the being of Mrs. Dalloway (the present-day, Meryl Streep segments). Upon closer inspection, though, it seems like Laura is a what-might-have-been for the character of Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa "was a Radical" (Woolf, 150) in her youth, reading Shakespeare and Plato and having thoughtful discussions with Sally and Peter "about how they were to reform the world" (Woolf, 33). One gets a sense of who Clarissa might've been had she stuck with Sally or Peter rather than marrying Richard and settling into a life of domesticity, where choosing flowers to a party is more important than reading Shakespeare. Laura is reckless, sure, no good mother would leave two young boys and their father because that was "death"--but she certainly illustrates one of the larger themes of both The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway: how "dangerous" it is "to live even one day" (Woolf, 8). If Laura hadn't experienced the kiss with her neighbor, or left her son to go spend a few hours reading and possibly contemplating suicide, maybe she would've stayed with her family and just maybe, Richard wouldn't have killed himself years later. Similarly, if Virginia Woolf hadn't buried the dead bird, or had been able to have the meal she wanted, or any number of things, perhaps she wouldn't have drowned herself. Who knows? One day can be very, very dangerous and the women in The Hours experience the effects of that danger.

I really wish I had more to say about Meryl Streep in this film but, really, she can do no wrong. I agree with Pat that Clarissa was "the only character...who acts in someone else's interest." Clarissa also seems to be the most well-adjusted. Maybe, though, if The Hours were to have a sequel, she might be experiencing the after-effects of this day and would be a little more selfish because of it.

I think Philip Glass did a great job with the score, the repetitive nature of the music echoed the connectedness of the women's lives. But, listening to Glass's other recordings, I realized that he basically uses the same few notes over and over again...so he loses points for creativity.

Back to Nicole Kidman's voice: perhaps it was the nose.