Monday 17 September 2018

Film: 'The Seagull'

Mixed feelings about this. Had it not been for the star turn of Annette Bening I would have been less equivocal, still more unenthused. 

Based on Chekhov's renowned stage play, this adaptation is little more than half the original's length and, I may say, the better for it, having excised most of the longueurs and all those needless lines. However, apart from its costumes and the relationship between aristocracy and vassalage, it didn't feel much like turn-of-the-century Russia (that's 19th/20th century, of course). 

Actually shot in New York State, with nearly all accents being American (which is fair enough, far better than having them spoken in strangulated faux-Russian!), Bening plays an actress coming to the end of her stage career in Moscow when she hears of the seriously declining health condition of her aged bachelor brother (Brian Dennehy), so she takes herself with her successful author-lover, Trigorin (Corey Stoll) to his country estate where her juvenile son (Billy Howle) also resides - only to find a young near neighbour (Saoirse Ronan) hovering around, on whom the son has romantic attentions - until Trigorin himself becomes fascinated by her. (Ronan and Howle also played the young newly-married couple at the centre of the recent and fine 'On Chesil Beach' - a film which was actually shot after this one had already begun). Anyway, the story is one of criss-crossing affections, some returned, others not so clearly motivated. 

I've already indicated that Annette Bening was, for me, the stand-out among a relatively strong cast - except for (and many may disagree) I didn't find Saoirse Ronan right for a part in which she appeared less than comfortable as the young and emotionally immature aspiring lover. I felt that Howle much better caught the callowness of youth and its accompanying impetuosity. But Bening's ability to switch her mood at the touch of a button, always entirely convincingly, was utterly remarkable - an ability she had opportunities here to illustrate a number of times. 

This Michael Mayer-directed film I found more digestible than the full original play, without succeeding in making me any more enamoured of the piece. It's already quite a convoluted plot and the romantic aspects of certain minor characters clouds the focus yet more.

Admirers of Chekhov may be more favourably disposed to this concise filmic adaptation. I'm not sure I'd care to sit through it again. If I say that two points of my rating is due solely to Annette Bening's performance (right up there among her all-time best) you can surmise my conclusion about the film as a whole...........6.

(IMDb.................6.0 / Rott. Toms..............6.1 )


  1. I forgot about it being set in Russia altogether until you mentioned it. I thought Ronan was the best I have seen her not liking her in parts she has been cast in that I have seen previously. Apart from that I agree with you about everything else. I thought the transition from stage to film was not an easy one for this play.

  2. Your view re Ronan is far from being a lonely one, a majority in fact, I think. I couldn't see it myself, finding her uncommitted and sometimes awkward - but there you are.
    I've not seen this play on film before though I see that several Chekhov plays have been filmed in adaptations. However, not this one in English until now.
    In the opening credits I made a mental note that music was by contemporary 'wunderkind' Nico Muhly, though during the film I can't say I heard anything musically memorable or particularly atmospheric.

    1. Her interpretation of the part was as I would have done it so I thought spot on. But that is just my reading of the play.

  3. Replies
    1. Good luck with it, JayGee. Not sure if you're familiar with the original play, but if you're not it MIGHT be an advantage. There are good things in the film though, all covered by one word - 'Bening'.

  4. Wondering if I want to spend time on this again? First time I saw it, I believe it was on TV and starred Frank Langella. Saw it again years later on B'way with Kristin Scott Thomas and I think that production went way over 3 hours.

    Bening is a good reason to see it. But I am curious about Ronan's performance and I definitely want to see Howle again. Next week's digital release makes it so easy to see. So, yes, I probably will see it.

    1. I was hoping the major compression of this adaptation into a non-expansive film length might have helped, which it did to some extent, though not as significantly as one might imagine.
      I've seen it a couple of times on stage and listened couple of times on radio but I always find Chekhov so diffuse as being unable to pin his plays down satisfactorily, though others go all starry-eyed about him, I'm aware.
      I might give this another shot when it comes on telly, though not if it's on past my bedtime - and it will probably be an early hours thing.
      Annette Bening is THE major reason to see it, I'd say. Her many interactions with others are just so 'right' and credible.
      Be interested to know what you make of Ronan's performance. I think I'm out on my own in finding it problematic, especially against Howle's much more believable, emotionally immature rendition.

  5. The Seagull with American accents. You may have just put me off. We'll see.

    1. It used to for me too, GW, and I still have to do an aural double-take when I hear it. But once past this there's usually still enough to enjoy. It's dubbed films that I can't stand.