by Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff
The Hours features three acclaimed performances from Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore.
The Hours is Stephen Daldry's second film
The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer- prize-winning novel, is directed by Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry and has a screenplay by David Hare.
Daldry has been reaping the rewards of the critically acclaimed movie, but it is the women who mesmerise on screen.
Nicole Kidman has been stealing the plaudits for The Hours - largely thanks to the false nose she wears to play novelist Virginia Woolf.
But the success of this film is down to defined characters and an excellent ensemble cast.
Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore play three women from different eras whose only link appears to be Woolf's book Mrs Dalloway.
Kidman plays the troubled Woolf, whose mental illness at times both stifles and feeds her creativity.
Moore has also recently starred in Far From Heaven
The 1920s countryside surroundings show off a more gentle time, but one where depression is treated with kid gloves and cups of tea.
The slow and beautiful setting is in stark contrast to the heady New York modern-day publishing scene inhabited by Streep's character Clarissa.
Streep plays a woman whose outward appearance is that of a sassy, confident woman with an exciting social life.
It is only as the cracks in her relationship with her partner, played by West Wing's Allison Janney, are revealed that we see all is not well.
And Clarissa also has to contend with her award-winning poet friend Richard Brown, convincingly played by Ed Harris, who is sick with Aids.
Richard is understandably difficult to handle as his health declines and any remaining zest for life has gone, despite Clarissa's attempts to remain optimistic in his presence.
Streep's connection to Woolf is Richard's nickname for her, Mrs Dalloway. (The protagonist of Woolf's novel is another Clarissa).
As the movie unfolds it becomes clear there is more of a connection to other characters than first appears.
Julianne Moore plays 1950s housewife Laura Brown who has to deal with her own depression and feelings of worthlessness.
As she struggles to deal with life she emerges herself in Mrs Dalloway.
Moore has been labelled, perhaps unfairly, as a supporting actress in The Hours but her performance is just as essential to the piece as Streep and Kidman's.
Streep has already won a Golden Globe for Adaptation
All three actresses act out of their skin, with not one letting the side down.
Fringe players including Toni Collette, John C Reilly and Claire Danes who also add to the eclectic mix.
Daldry's seamless direction makes for gripping viewing and shock denouements.
Although there is little to raise a smile about the imploding lives of the three characters there are enough surprises to keep the tension heightened throughout.
Daldry's directorial debut Billy Elliot was easy to market to a wide audience because of its universal subject matter of triumph over adversity.
The Hours is harder to pitch because Woolf's novels are notoriously hard going, thanks to the stream-of-consciousness writing.
But Daldry and his trio of female stars deserve all the plaudits they receive for creating a phenomenally intelligent and entertaining film.
And the make-up department should take a bow for transforming the beautiful Kidman into the drab author and for their work on Moore.
The Hours is released in the UK on Friday.