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The Hours is a 2002 American & British drama film directed by Stephen Daldry, and starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Ed Harris. The screenplay by David Hare is based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title by Michael Cunningham.

The plot focuses on three women of different generations whose lives are interconnected by the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Among them are Clarissa Vaughan (Streep), a New Yorker preparing an award party for her AIDS-stricken long-time friend and poet, Richard (Harris) in 2001; Laura Brown (Moore), a pregnant 1950s California housewife with a young boy and an unhappy marriage; and Virginia Woolf herself (Kidman) in 1920s England, who is struggling with depression and mental illness whilst trying to write her novel.

The film was released in Los Angeles and New York City on Christmas Day 2002, and was given a limited release in the US and Canada two days later on December 27, 2002. It did not receive a wide release in the US until January 2003, and was then released in UK cinemas on Valentine's Day that year. Critical reaction to the film was mostly positive, and Nicole Kidman won an Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.


With the exception of the opening and final scenes, which depict Virginia Woolf's (Nicole Kidman) 1941 suicide by drowning in the River Ousemarker, the action takes place within the span of a single day in three different years, and alternates among them throughout the film. In 1923, renowned author Woolf has begun writing the book Mrs. Dalloway in her home in the town of Richmondmarker in suburban Londonmarker. In 1951, troubled Los Angelesmarker housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) tries to find escape from her dreary existence by reading the same book. In 2001, New Yorkermarker Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) is the embodiment of the title character of Woolf's work as she spends the day preparing for a party she is hosting in honor of her friend Richard, a poet and author living with AIDS who is to receive an award for career achievement.

Virginia, who has experienced several nervous breakdowns and suffers from recurring bouts of severe depression, feels trapped in her home. Intimidated by her servants, Nelly and Lottie, and constantly monitored by her husband Leonard, who operates the Hogarth Press at home in order to be in close proximity to her at all times, Woolf both welcomes and dreads an afternoon visit from her sister Vanessa and her children. After their departure, Virginia flees to the railway station where she is awaiting a train to central London when Leonard arrives to bring her home.

Pregnant with her second child, Laura spends her days in her tract home with her timid, clinging young son Richie. She married her husband, Dan, soon after World War II and on the surface they are living the American Dream; she is nevertheless deeply unhappy. She and Richie prepare a birthday cake for Dan's birthday, but the end result is a disaster. Her neighbor Kitty unexpectedly drops in to ask her if she can feed her dog while she's in the hospital undergoing a medical procedure. Kitty is trying to remain upbeat, but Laura senses her fear and boldly kisses her on the lips, a gesture Kitty appreciates, although she ignores any hidden meaning it may have had. With renewed determination, Laura bakes another cake, this time successfully, cleans the kitchen, and then takes Richie to stay with Mrs. Latch while she supposedly runs some errands before dinner. Instead she checks into a luxury hotel, where she intends to commit suicide. Before taking the pills she has brought with her, she begins to read Mrs. Dalloway and drifts off to sleep. Awakening from a dream in which the hotel room was flooded, she has a change of heart, picks up Richie, and returns home, where the family celebrates Dan's birthday.

Clarissa, stressed in particular about the celebration dinner she's planning for her close friend Richard, particularly by his increasingly debilitating illness, is a bundle of nerves as she tries to accomplish all she needs to do before Richard's award ceremony. The two were romantic during their college days, but he has spent the better part of his life engaging in gay relationships, including one with Louis Waters, who left him years ago but is returning to Manhattanmarker from his home in San Franciscomarker for the festivities. Clarissa herself is a lesbian who has been living with Sally Lester for 10 years, and the mother of university student Julia, both of whom are trying to help her prepare. Eventually we discover Richard is in fact young Richie Brown, Laura's son. When Clarissa arrives at his apartment to help him dress for the ceremony, she finds him in a manic state. Perched on the window ledge, he confesses he has struggled to stay alive for Clarissa's sake but, no longer willing to live with his illness, he throws himself out a window. Later that night Laura, having been notified of her son's suicide by Clarissa, arrives at her apartment. Laura reveals her decision to abandon her family after the birth of her daughter was one she needed to make in order to maintain her sanity.

Principal cast


Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

Critical reception

Stephen Holden of the New York Times called the film "deeply moving" and "an amazingly faithful screen adaptation" and added, "Although suicide eventually tempts three of the film's characters, The Hours is not an unduly morbid film. Clear eyed and austerely balanced would be a more accurate description, along with magnificently written and acted. Mr. Glass's surging minimalist score, with its air of cosmic abstraction, serves as ideal connective tissue for a film that breaks down temporal barriers."

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle observed, "Director Stephen Daldry employs the wonderful things cinema can do in order to realize aspects of The Hours that Cunningham could only hint at or approximate on the page. The result is something rare, especially considering how fine the novel is, a film that's fuller and deeper than the book . . . It's marvelous to watch the ways in which [David Hare] consistently dramatizes the original material without compromising its integrity or distorting its intent . . . Cunningham's [novel] touched on notes of longing, middle-aged angst and the sense of being a small consciousness in the midst of a grand mystery. But Daldry and Hare's [film] sounds those notes and sends audiences out reverberating with them, exalted."

Richard Schickel of Time criticized its simplistic characterization, saying that: "Watching The Hours, one finds oneself focusing excessively on the unfortunate prosthetic nose Kidman affects in order to look more like the novelist. And wondering why the screenwriter, David Hare, and the director, Stephen Daldry, turn Woolf, a woman of incisive mind, into a hapless ditherer." He also criticized its overt politicization: "But this movie is in love with female victimization. Moore's Laura is trapped in the suburban flatlands of the '50s, while Streep's Clarissa is moored in a hopeless love for Laura's homosexual son (Ed Harris, in a truly ugly performance), an AIDS sufferer whose relentless anger is directly traceable to Mom's long-ago desertion of him. Somehow, despite the complexity of the film's structure, this all seems too simple-minded. Or should we perhaps say agenda driven? The same criticisms might apply to the fact that both these fictional characters (and, it is hinted, Woolf herself) find what consolation they can in a rather dispassionate lesbianism. This ultimately proves insufficient to lend meaning to their lives or profundity to a grim and uninvolved film, for which Philip Glass unwittingly provides the perfect score—tuneless, oppressive, droning, painfully self-important."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film, which he thought "sometimes stumbles on literary pretensions," two out of four stars. He praised the performances, commenting, "Kidman's acting is superlative, full of passion and feeling . . . Moore is wrenching in her scenes with Laura's son (Jack Rovello, an exceptional child actor). And Streep is a miracle worker, building a character in the space between words and worlds. These three unimprovable actresses make The Hours a thing of beauty."

Steve Persall of the St. Petersburg Times said it "is the most finely crafted film of the past year that I never want to sit through again. The performances are flawless, the screenplay is intelligently crafted, and the overall mood is relentlessly bleak. It is a film to be admired, not embraced, and certainly not to be enjoyed for any reason other than its expertise . . . Glacially paced and somberly presented, The Hours demands that viewers be as impressed with the production as the filmmakers are with themselves . . . Whatever the reason - too gloomy, too slow, too slanted - [it] is too highbrow and admirably dull for most moviegoers. It's the kind of film that makes critics feel smarter by recommending it, even at the risk of damaging credibility with mainstream audiences who automatically think any movie starring Kidman, Streep and Moore is worth viewing. The Hours will feel like days for them."

Phillip French of The Observer called it "a moving, somewhat depressing film that demands and rewards attention." He thought "the performances are remarkable" but found the Philip Glass score to be "relentless" and "over-amplified."

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian rated the film three out of five stars and commented, "It is a daring act of extrapolation, and a real departure from most movie-making, which can handle only one universe at a time . . . The performances that Daldry elicits . . . are all strong: tightly managed, smoothly and dashingly juxtaposed under a plangent score. I have to confess I am agnostic about Nicole Kidman, who as Woolf murmurs her lines through an absurd prosthetic nose. It's almost a Hollywood Disability. You've heard of Daniel Day-Lewis and My Left Foot. This is Nicole and her Big Fake Schnoz. It doesn't look anything like the real Virginia's sharp, fastidious features . . . Julianne Moore gives [a] superbly controlled, humane performance . . . Streep's performance is probably the most fully realised of the three: a return to the kind of mature and demanding role on which she had a freehold in yesterday's Hollywood . . . Part of the bracing experimental impact of the film was the absence of narrative connection between the three women. Supplying one in the final reel undermines its formal daring, but certainly packs an emotional punch. It makes for an elegant and poignant chamber music of the soul."

Box office

The Hours opened in New York Citymarker and Los Angelesmarker on Christmas Day 2002 and went into limited release in the United States and Canadamarker two days later. It grossed $1,070,856 on eleven screens in its first two weeks of release. On January 10, 2003, it expanded to 45 screens, and the following week it expanded to 402. On February 14 it went into wide release, playing in 1,003 theaters in the US and Canada. With an estimated budget of $25 million, the film eventually earned $41,675,994 in the US and Canada and $67,170,078 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $108,846,072.It was the 56th highest grossing film of 2002.


The film's score by Philip Glass won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. The soundtrack album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.

Additional awards and nominations

  • London Film Critics Circle Award for British Screenwriter of the Year (David Hare, winner)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for British Film of the Year (nominee)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for Film of the Year (nominee)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year (Ed Harris, nominee)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for British Supporting Actor of the Year (Stephen Dillane, nominee)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for British Director of the Year (Stephen Daldry, nominee)


  1. New York Times review
  2. San Francisco Chronicle review
  3. Time review
  4. Rolling Stone review
  5. St. Petersburg Times review
  6. The Observer review
  7. The Guardian review

External links

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