The film “Mrs. Dalloway” is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name which was published in 1925.  The title role is played by Vanessa Redgrave whose portrayal gives us an excellent insight into the character that Virginia Woolf wishes to explain.


The entire story about that character takes place in just one day as Clarissa Dalloway, a matron in her fifties, prepares for a party she is hosting on that evening.  In the morning, she mends the gorgeous green dress which she will wear, and decides that she wants to visit the florist to choose the flowers for the occasion.  Clarissa has slowly recovered from a bout which hints at being a depression of sorts, and she looks forward to getting out on the London streets to experience the hustle and bustle of the town.  This gives her time to reminisce on earlier days when she was carefree and had not chosen a path in life to follow.  The film goes back and forth in time to demonstrate the adventurous Clarissa in her early days as compared to the character she has become.

                                                             Vanessa RedgraveCredit: Wikimedia Commons 

                                                                     Vanessa Redgrave                                                                                                                                                   Wikimedia

A Visitor from Clarissa’s Younger Days

Upon her return home, she has a visitor, Peter Walsh (Michael Kitchen) who had proposed to Clarissa during those early days which she was remembering.  Peter had just returned from India, and remarked to Clarissa that he had fallen in love with an Indian girl and had come home to arrange his divorce in order to clear the way.  Clarissa invited him to her party that evening.  It was clear that Peter still had feelings for Clarissa.

In flashbacks, however, it was noted that Clarissa felt suffocated by Peter’s attentions at that time, since he wanted them to be everything to each other.  Prophetically, he stated that Clarissa would someday be the perfect hostess, a designation that Clarissa now felt was her main purpose in life.   Back then, Clarissa’s eyes fell on a new young man who came into the picture, Richard Dalloway (John Standing) with whom she felt safe and able to be herself.  Richard was not particularly affectionate, but he was reliable and liked to bring Clarissa flowers which gave expression to his feelings.

A Former Soldier Suffers Shell-Shock from his War Experiences

An unusual sub-plot is introduced into the story of Mrs. Dalloway.  A young man named Septimus Warren Smith (Rupert Graves), who had served honorably as a soldier for England in World War I, suffered from shell-shock after seeing his commanding officer, named Evans, killed before his very eyes.  Evans did not heed Warren Smith’s warning of a blast of gunfire heading his way.  Warren Smith had not been able to forget the incident, and imagined often, when someone was walking towards him, that it was Evans, and he insisted on yelling to the person not to come.  He was diagnosed as being shell-shocked.

Clarissa Dalloway had never met Septimus Warren Smith.  The only connection they had was that they shared the same psychiatrist, Dr. William Bradshaw, who would be attending Clarissa’s party that evening.


Virginia WoolfCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                           Virginia Woolf                                                                                                                                                      Wikimedia

Clarissa’s Daughter is Reminded of the Party

As Peter was leaving Clarissa’s house that morning with a promise to see her at her party in the evening, Clarissa’s daughter Elizabeth (Katie Carr) stopped in with her friend and mentor, Miss Kidman, on their way to see a clergyman who would explain to Elizabeth the value of becoming a born-again Christian.  Miss Kidman was not fond of Clarissa, simply because of her higher social status, and Clarissa returned Miss Kidman’s antipathy.  She reminded Elizabeth about the party that evening, and Elizabeth said she would try to make it.  Later on, as Elizabeth and Miss Kidman were having lunch together, Elizabeth informed Miss Kidman that she would be attending her mother’s party; they would meet with the clergyman at another time.

Clarissa’s Fears About Her Party

In the film, the other concerned characters see Clarissa as a reserved and charming woman, but the viewer has the added value of hearing Clarissa’s thoughts revealed. She is fearful that the party will be a disaster, particularly since one of her friends asked to bring along Ellie Henderson, whom Clarissa regarded as a total bore.  The party moves into high gear, however, after the guests have a few drinks, and it promises to be a successful evening.

Peter arrived and wanted a tete-a-tete with Clarissa, but she promised to talk with him before the night was over.  They were both pleased when Lady Rosseter walked in.  She was Sally Seton, a daring non-conformist, when they were all growing up together.  She seemed to have settled nicely into her adulthood with a husband of high distinction.  She and Peter kept each other company during the evening.


Rupert GravesCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                            Rupert Graves                                                                                                                                                        Wikimedia

The Former Soldier Committed Suicide

When the psychiatrist Dr. Bradshaw arrived, he told the group that one of his patients, Septimus Warren Smith, had committed suicide that day.  Dr. Bradshaw had recommended that Warren Smith go to a rest home for his problem, and when the doctor arrived at his home, Warren Smith jumped out the window rather than succumb to the treatment that Dr. Bradshaw had recommended.  That was the first time that Clarissa learned of the young man’s existence and his untimely death.  She felt deeply concerned about the deceased man since she had reservations about how the mentally ill were treated.

The Party was a Great Success

Towards the end of the evening when most of the guests had departed, Clarissa danced with Peter, and her husband Richard danced with Lady Rosseter.  The party had been a great success; the Prime Minister himself had shown up late in the evening, to everyone’s delight.  Clarissa’s love for throwing parties stemmed from her desire to bring people together to create happy memories.  She also wanted to live up to people’s social expectations as she was the wife of a mid-level politician.  The viewer perceives the unspoken truth that Clarissa is happy with her choice of husband.  She and Peter would not have been a good match.

Author Virginia Woolf

British writer Virginia Woolf is best known for her novels, especially “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse.”  Her actual name was Virginia Stephen.  Virginia had a nervous breakdown when her father, Leslie Stephen, died when Virginia was 22 years old.  Three years later, she attempted suicide.  Mental illness became a theme or a sub-theme in her writing.  She succeeded in her second attempt when she was 59 years old and died while drowning.



Mrs. Dalloway
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