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Last Updated:  Monday, 27 January, 2003, 14:04 GMT
Stephen Daldry: Cometh the Hours
Stephen Daldry
Daldry was groomed for film success
Theatre director Stephen Daldry scored critical and commercial successes with Billy Elliot - but looks like surpassing them with his latest film The Hours.

In only his second feature film, British director Stephen Daldry assembled arguably three of Hollywood's finest actresses who gave some of their strongest ever performances.

Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep all received rave reviews for The Hours - with Kidman picking up the best actress Golden Globe.

The film itself won best picture, but Daldry missed out on the director award to Martin Scorsese for Gangs of New York.

The Hours has received 11 Bafta nominations, including best film, director and nods for all three leading actresses.

Oscar nominations are also expected to follow.

Whether The Hours will match Billy Elliot's commercial success, taking more than $40m around the world, has yet to be seen.

The Hours has already had a limited run in the US, to ensure its Oscar eligibility, but does not open in the UK until 14 February.

The film centres on three women from different eras who are bound by Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway.

With a more downbeat subject matter, as the characters tackle depression and illness, it lacks the feelgood factor which made Billy Elliot a hit and won it three Oscar nominations.

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman has won a Globe and Bafta for The Hours
But the powerful and cultured drama could encourage a new audience looking for a more highbrow British movie.

Hollywood stars

The film was made for the relatively modest sum of $22m (13.8m), and Daldry was the last name to be brought on board.

Even so, producer Scott Rudin, who made The Truman Show and Iris, invited Daldry to direct before Billy Elliot, had even been released.

Daldry, who had established himself as artistic director at London's prestigious Royal Court Theatre, told BBC News Online he could not pass up the chance to work with Kidman, Streep and Moore.

"They never acted like Hollywood stars to me. They always came in incredibly knowledgeable and prepared," he said.

Daldry made the smooth and successful transition from theatre to movies with Billy Elliot in 2000.

Daldry was suddenly catapulted to international fame and a place at the Oscar ceremony.

Bold style

He was fortunate in that he was groomed for film by Working Title, the UK production company that created Notting Hill, Elizabeth and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

It gave Daldry the script of the short film Eight as his first screen venture in 1998 and Billy Elliot followed two years later.

It won three Baftas including best actor for its star Jamie Bell, best supporting actress for Julie Walters and best British film.

Daldry handled his new found fame with panache, but then he has always been known for his bold theatrical style.

He first grabbed public attention at the Gate Theatre in London, which he ran between 1990 and 1992.

Radical politics

The Gate was a small fringe theatre when he started working there and he converted it to a showcase for international tastes and talents.

Stephen Daldry and Nicole Kidman
Daldry enjoyed working with all three leading ladies in The Hours
When he was made artistic director at the Royal Court at the age of 32, it was nothing short of phenomenal, particularly for a man with a history of involvement in radical politics.

Daldry joined the Socialist Workers Party at Sheffield University in the 1980s, something he has said gave him a "political education."

These political leanings are evident in his most famous productions.

His revival of JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls - originally for the National Theatre, but now a West End and touring hit - was seen as an assault on Thatcher's Britain.

Though written in 1945, it is a play about agitation and propaganda and the production emphasised the notion that there is and needs to be a caring society.

Billy Elliot was no exception, set as it was against the backdrop of the 1984 miners' strike, which Daldry said was pivotal to the film.

Billy Elliot's means of self-expression is to choose ballet over boxing to the fury of his father, a striking miner.

Criticism

Daldry's own father died of cancer when he was 14 and he has said that his emotions about that time were something he worked into Billy Elliot who has lost his mother.

The emotional content of the film has been criticised by some, notably by Time magazine's film critic who called it "emotional pornography", but audiences clearly did not agree.

Daldry still works in the theatre - most recently directing Caryl Churchill's play Far Away to great acclaim at the Royal Court.

But now he is embarking on another hectic round of award ceremonies and promotional tours as The Hours prepares to open in the UK.



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