Checkhov’s THE SEAGULL Comes to the Big Screen

Anton Checkhov’s cinematic release of THE SEAGULL releases this week from director . Mayer directed HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS, FLICKA, plus was an EP on 27 DRESSES. I was sold by the cast – you just can’t get a cast like this together without getting excited at the amount of ensemble talent in one place. I was in, grabbed the granny and off we headed to Dendy Opera Quays for the press screening. It was then that I remembered that Checkhov is a Russian playwright and his plays are eternally long and have put me to sleep a few times. Could the cast keep me awake?

THE SEAGULL is out now from Transmission Films in Australia, it is rated PG and runs for an appreciatively short 98mins.

 

The Seagull Annette Bening image

 

BY

THE SEAGULL SYNOPSIS:

One summer at a lakeside Russian estate, friends and family gather for a weekend in the countryside. While everyone is caught up in passionately loving someone who loves somebody else, a tragicomedy unfolds about art, fame, human folly, and the eternal desire to live a purposeful life.

The estate is owned by Sorin (), a retired government employee, and his sister Irina (Annette Bening), a legendary actress of the Moscow stage. Irina is imperious, narcissistic and selfish, and anxious about holding on to her star status and the affections of her younger lover, Boris Trigorin (), a successful writer of short stories. Irina constantly belittles her aspiring writer son Konstantin (), perhaps because his existence as a grown man reminds her that age is catching up with her.

While he adores his mother despite her cruelty, Konstantin acts out his insecurity and anger by rejecting both her style of theatre and Boris’s writing, declaring them old-fashioned and banal. A dreamer, Konstantin declares he will create bold and superior new forms of theatre and literature.

The cast thankfully kept me more than awake..

Konstantin, who grew up on the estate, is head over heels in love with Nina (), a beautiful and naïve local girl who dreams of being an actress. Nina is flattered when Konstantin gives her the starring role in his newly written play, but soon after encountering Boris, she rejects Konstantin, and pursues the handsome and famous writer instead.

Masha (), the forlorn, black-clad, self-medicating daughter of Sorin’s estate manager Shamrayev (Glenn Fleshler) and his wife Polina (Mare Winningham), suffers an unrequited love for Konstantin, who insensitively spurns her. She scorns the insipid schoolteacher Medvedenko (Michael Zegen), who refuses to be discouraged by her rejection and accepts any crumbs of attention she drops him. Polina aches for the charismatic country doctor Dorn (Jon Tenney), who, pays her some attention, but still relishes the connection with Irina with whom he had an affair years ago. The elderly Sorin, long past any hope of romance, lives in a languid state of regret over roads not taken.

 

The Seagull Billy Howle image
Billy Howle

 

A WHOLE LOT OF DEPRESSING FLAWED CHARACTERS:

THE SEAGULL was a stage disaster when it premiered at the theatre in 1896. It was decimated by critics. At this time Checkhov renounced the theatre. It was only when Konstantin Stanislavsky directed it for the Moscow Art Theater in 1898 that the play was hailed as a masterpiece and Chekhov, previously a noted short story writer and doctor, was launched on the playwriting career that would create the remaining three masterpieces of UNCLE VANYA, THREE SISTERS and THE CHERRY ORCHARD. The four plays made up the better known masterpieces of Checkhov’s career.

The story is a clever tale of flawed characters that makes an impressive statement about social media and fame in the current age. It is also a messed up love story, a massive love daisy chain of out-of-sync partners, everyone is in love with the person two steps in front of them who is, of course, in love with someone else. This is somewhat humorous and hurtful in delivery as in the end it is a somewhat melodramatic love tragedy. If they all killed themselves Shakespeare would applaud.

HIGHLIGHTING INSTA FAME CENTURIES BEFORE IT’S A THING:

Konstantin is so desperate for fame and attention to the point of attempted suicide, Nina basically whores herself in her blinkered love for fame and attention and Irina has all the fame but is ageing and soon to lose it while desperate to hang on to it. Boris is in a relationship with Irina but is seduced with the young beauty of Nina, he is the most famous of the lot for his written works. Originally written and set in 1896 (but this movie is somehow set in 1906) this story perfectly captures multiple people trying to become Instafamous centuries before Insta exists. To these characters fame is unnecessarily necessary for their own state of mind. I never imagined fame, and people’s desires for it was a thing back then – it is quite sad to see it most likely was.

 

The Seagull Saoirse Ronan image
Saoirse Ronan

 

A FEW FLAWS:

Firstly this is a Russian story that is filmed in the U.S. and starring only U.S. and British actors. The spoken language is American, this doesn’t sit well with all their names being Russian.

Secondly, why is everyone so bloody awful to each other – most of the time the connections with characters are broken by the dislike of their actions. I wanted to slaughter Konstantin and Irina through most of the movie.

Thirdly, Konstantin’s suicide attempt lacked the desired dramatic effect, it came off as soap opera worthy and needed to be much deeper to get the point across, it didn’t help that the character was basically a spoiled brat lost in his own petulance.

 

The Seagull Elizabeth Moss image
Elizabeth Moss

 

SERIOUSLY, WHAT A CAST!

If it wasn’t for this cast I would have fallen asleep. I would have seen this movie purely to see Brian Dennehey back on the big screen again, and while he slept through most of the movie it was grand to see him again.

It was a tie for me between who stole the movie; Annette Bening or Elisabeth Moss. Bening is a master who has never left the top of her game and her presence onscreen literally subdues everyone in her camera presence. Elisabeth Moss on the other hand won me over for her miserable comic relief and alcoholism – she was like a 20th Century Wednesday Adams.

I do like Corey Stoll and he was a great fit for Boris, as was Mare Winningham, Glenn Fleshler and Jon Tenney in their respective roles.

And rounding out the cast are the two lovebirds from ON CHESIL BEACH. So weird that Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan play starcrossed lovebirds in two movies releasing literally weeks apart. They both give fantastic performances.

 

The Seagull Cast image
The Seagull Cast

 

IN CONCLUSION:

If a 19th Century theatrical Russian melodramatic dialogue-driven costume drama made by Americans is your thing then THE SEAGULL is for you. I recommend it purely for the performances of the wonderful cast.

 

 

 

YOUR CRITIC:

 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.