What a hooter

Film - Philip Kerr can't keep his eyes off Nicole's nose in the overhyped The Hours

Promoting the movie Red Dragon, Sir Anthony Hopkins discussed the challenges of playing a younger version of Dr Hannibal Lecter: "On this one, I thought, it's the vocal problem I've got, because my voice has dropped. So I thought . . . can I make it as light, as tenor-like as the original Lecter? I thought, well, that's pushing it, and it wouldn't fit the body. It's like if you put on a false nose, it looks like a false nose; there's nothing you can do about it . . . It's like trying to make yourself look younger - it doesn't work."

Now that I've seen The Hours, I know exactly what Sir Anthony means. There is something so obvious about the false nose that Nicole Kidman (herself the proud possessor of a perfect retrousse) wears for the role of Virginia "the Schnozz" Woolf that I soon forgot all about Nicole and Virginia and started to think of her prosthetic nose (the shape and texture of an uncooked chipolata sausage) as having a life of its own, rather like those awful Wicked Willie comic strips that Gray Jolliffe used to draw, chronicling the picaresque adventures of a disembodied penis. And it having become the cynosure, nay the central motif of this film, I fell to cogitating upon the cinematic pantheon of dodgy-looking noses (see list, right), and on false noses in general (Tycho Brahe, Sir William D'Avenant, and the embalmed one on Lenin's corpse that went so badly wrong). Finally, I found myself on a Woolf-like stream of consciousness that connected a story by Gogol, about a man searching for his lost nose, with Shostakovich, who wrote an opera based on the Gogol story, as well as some jazz suites that were made more famous by the film Eyes Wide Shut, which starred Kidman.

Based on Michael Cunningham's Pulit-zer Prize-winning novel, Stephen (Billy Elliot) Daldry's second movie takes Virginia Woolf's life and her novel Mrs Dalloway as the inspirations for a medita- tion on suicide, love, artistic endeavour, madness, birthday cakes, flowers, and probably a whole lot of other stuff that I failed to notice, obscured as it probably was by the spinnaker-sized shadow of Kidman's Barrymore-like (that's John, not Michael) hooter.

The film refracts the lives of three women through the prism of a single day in three different decades. There is Virginia herself, living in Richmond with acute depression and a Wellington-sized conk, and blocking out her new novel, provisionally titled The Hours, but which, under the watchful (but not watchful enough) eye of her husband Leonard, evolves into Mrs Dalloway. There is the Fifties Middle American housewife Laura (Julianne Moore), who is lonely and married to a man she does not love, dissolving into tears at the slightest provocation and - possibly because she is reading Mrs Dalloway - wanting to kill herself (but not as much as I did). And there is Clarissa (after Clarissa Dalloway; played by Meryl Streep) living not in London of 1925, but modern- day New York; married to Richard, a gay writer dying of Aids, played by Ed Harris, who overacts so terribly that when, like the shell-shocked Septimus Smith, finally he threw himself from the fifth-floor window of his squalid New York apartment, I gave a silent cheer.

This is very much an actor's film, which is to say that everyone hams it up with the kind of mouthing, immodest prating that Hamlet warns the Players about, making speeches instead of speaking dialogue, as if they were all strutting on stage, and generally imitating human beings quite abominably. I confess I rather enjoyed Billy Elliot but this one, and the hysterical hype that has greeted its release, is lost on me. Perhaps the first 90 minutes of The Hours are not so bad - but imagine my horror when I looked at my watch and discovered that in fact less than half an hour had gone by.

My wife enjoyed it, however, and thought it extremely worthy, which it is, although in a way that only encourages the philistine in those like me.

Every time I saw Kidman's nose I wanted dreadful things to happen to it. I wanted to see Roman Polanski slash it open like Jack Nicholson's nose in Chinatown; I wanted to see it comically defiled by Kevin Kline as when, in A Fish Called Wanda, he thrust two ketchup-loaded French fries up the nostrils of Michael Palin. I wanted to see Cary Grant try to climb it as he does with all those presidential noses in North by North-West. But most of all I wanted to see the nose grow like the one in Pinocchio.

The Eight Dodgiest Noses on Film

1) Alec Guinness as Fagin in Oliver Twist
2) Anthony Quinn as Auda in Lawrence of Arabia
3) Laurence Olivier in Richard III
4) Jose Ferrer in Cyrano y d'Artagnan
5) Jon Voight as Howard Cosell in Ali
6) Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen in Cat Ballou
7) Any film with W C Fields
8) Any film with Karl Malden

The Hours (12a) is on general release