- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS Lives are turned upside down when an actress and her lover arrive at a country estate.
Annette Benning, Saiorse Ronan
PERIOD DRAMA #THESEAGULL
This all-star cast adaptation of Chekov’s celebrated play has got a lot going for it, not the least of which is the all-star cast. Annette Benning, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss and Billy Howle are all great company, with the luscious cinematography of DAREDEVIL’s Matthew Lloyd adding to the visual allure. Scene by scene, moment by moment there is constantly something engaging about Michael Mayer’s vigorous film, even in Chekov’s more elusive moments. There are as many questions raised as answered: for example why, exactly, is the local teacher spending so much time in the home of aristocratic Benning? These curiosities are part of what makes The Seagull in general, and this SEAGULL in particular, compelling.
It’s the early 1900’s and on the outskirts of Moscow a notable actress (Benning) is holding court in her brother’s country home. She’s joined by her son (Howle), a fledgling writer; her beau (Corey Stoll), a celebrated writer; a local girl (Ronan) who dreams of being an actress plus assorted staff including the determinedly miserable housekeeper’s daughter (Moss) who dresses in black because she is in mourning for her life. Tying them together are abundant jealousies, failures and unrequited passions. Cue heavy drinking, tantrums and attempted suicide.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mayer seems to be having the devil of a job keeping Chekov’s contrary story on track. It’s the nature of Chekov of course; one minute we’re up to our ears in tragic farce, the next a maelstrom of darkest emotion is enlivened by hilariously cynical flourishes. Holding it all together takes a masterful touch and one that ultimately eludes Mayer. There are moments of excellence, many of confidence, some that are unexpected and many more than dance too closely with the ridiculous. It makes THE SEAGULL a perfectly enjoyable if less than memorable experience.
Problems, such as they are, may rest in a decision to Americanise the Russian sensibility; at its core this is harsh material which weakens under a more sentimental touch. Which then makes you wonder what a Russian director, perhaps someone with the clout of LEVIATHAN’s Andrey Zvyagintsev, would make of it all. And Chekov himself for that matter. None the less, there’s still a great deal of enjoyment to be gained from the turbulent narrative and energetic performances, especially Benning’s self-absorbed aristocrat, that makes THE SEAGULL well worth your time.