Amazing cast saves Seagull adaptation
IF IT weren’t for its impressive cast and performances, The Seagull would be a decent but largely forgettable costume dramedy.
This adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s social satire, directed by Michael Mayer, is a pleasing little movie set by a photogenic summerhouse by a lake. But it never quite makes the leap from stage to screen.
Theatre is notoriously hard to adapt for the screen and Chekhov even more so when so much of his work is about subtext.
Mayer does an admirable job in building up tension, moving the action around to different parts of the estate and cross-cutting between sets of characters.
Really though, it’s the performances that make it work or, at least, make it a diverting couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Annette Bening is resplendent, equal parts melodrama, ego, fragility and callous cruelty as the fading theatre star Irina – in Bening’s hands, a character as venomous as Irina is made human and vulnerable.
Most of the action is set on a country estate, which Irina is visiting with her younger lover Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a famed short story writer.
Her son Konstantine (Billy Howle) is an aspiring playwright but he pens pretentious symbolist works that are direct pot shots at the conventional dramas that made his mother famous.
Konstantine’s play stars his girlfriend and wannabe
actor Nina (Saoirse Ronan), starstruck by Trigorin, who will end up pursuing the doe-eyed ingenue.
Also present during this weekend of emotional fireworks is the estate keeper Shamrayev (Glenn Fleischer), his wife Polina (Mare Winningham), their daughter, the vodka-swilling Masha (Elisabeth Moss), Irina’s brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy), teacher Mikhail (Michael Zegan) and Dr Dorn (Jon Tenney).
It’s a moving board of unrequited love. Mikhail yearns for the morose Masha who longs after Konstantine, who’s madly in love, in the way that only sensitive young men of a certain age in literature can be, with Nina, who in turn is entranced by Trigorin, who’s supposed to in a relationship with Irina.
Then there’s Polina, married to Shamrayev but has a past with Dr Dorn. Everyone wants someone they can’t have. It’s a powder keg threatening to blow.
Chekhov’s characters, these souls with ideas about romance, art and life, are made alive with the incredible talent gathered within this ensemble cast, but especially Bening, Stoll and Moss.
Because otherwise, this just another stilted costume piece. As always, thank god for Annette Bening.