BWW Review: THE SEAGULL, General release UK cinemas

BWW Review: THE SEAGULL, General release UK cinemas

BWW Review: THE SEAGULL, General release UK cinemasIt's never a good sign when, 20 minutes into the movie, you're in two minds whether to leave or not - but director, Michael Mayer, held his camera still for more than a couple of seconds and the welling motion sickness passed.

That said, the woozy swooping of the camera as the poor actors tried, you know, to act and fast cutting I last saw in the early days of MTV, led me to believe that Mayer possessed a tin ear when it came to Chekhov's black comedy. The American accents jarring on the Russian names hardly helped and the filter tip cigarette, while a minor faux pas in itself, just added to the sense of misjudgement. (And Irina would never have compromised her smoking like that!)

Things improved after that dire opening. Annette Bening toned down her initial ripeness - though she never quite settles into the role of the ageing actress filled with envy driven by insecurity - and we get a chance to admire the costumes and some of the interior scenes.

The lake is beautifully shot too, but, by literally showing us a lake, its symbolic import, something to which Chekhov explicitly refers, collapses and it just becomes a scenic backdrop for a clichéd seduction in a rowing boat. Blatant exposition - always the enemy of a satisfying cultural experience - intrudes (visually) far too often.

The oft used long shot of the country house itself - looking like a scaled down version of Kubrick's Overlook or Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel - insistently reminds us that there is an outside world, when Chekhov is all about people being trapped by their choices, their situations, their neuroses. On stage, Chekhov works best when the focus is pulled tighter and tighter, the characters spiralling inwards with nowhere to go. In this adaptation, they can literally run away - and do.

Saoirse Ronan does what she can with the role of Nina - the starstruck would-be actress, who is dazzled by the vacuous, but famous, writer, Trigorin, who ruins her on a whim. Her best work is done with Bening - the older woman envious of the younger woman's bewitching (without trying) of Trigorin, her lover - and that's where the film finds Chekhov's bleak humour most readily. But does anyone believe it? Ronan is too intelligent - or plays it too intelligent - to be taken in by Trigorin surely, and perhaps a touch too old to be an authentic ingénue. Ronan's doe eyed looks towards her hero don't sit well within that face and her trailing of Trigorin is a little too puppyish for a woman who looks well into her 20s.

Much the best performance is delivered by Corey Stoll, who gives Trigorin the exact quantum of oily charm to make the part work. He times his putdowns of the ludicrous Konstantin perfectly and scribbles his mundane observations in his notebook with the ersatz gravitas with which he invests all his words, spoken or written. Here is the man whom many of us have inside us, but mostly keep at bay, partly for fear of being found out and partly because it requires such contempt of others that it poisons your own psyche - Chekhov showing us humanity's complexity as usual.

Perhaps fearing audience's attention spans, Mayer hacked the action down to about 90 minutes, so the rest of the fine cast are left to play caricatures rather than characters. Billy Howle agonises as Konstantin, like an actor still trying to find his way into Hamlet; Brian Dennehy coughs and splutters observing the foolishness with a rheumy eye, without doing anything; and, almost criminally, Elizabeth Moss is reduced to a sulky, boozy Masha whom we never get the chance to know and therefore about whom we care little.

The other characters are there, but more or less edited out, so brief is their time on screen.

It's all so disappointing because Mayer has a strong record in theatre, but loses one of its greatest playwrights (okay, I'll say its greatest playwright) in a blizzard of cinematic bells and whistles, compromising casting, pace, breadth and tone for the sake of making something that most definitely could not be accused of being theatrical.

But maybe it's something much simpler - maybe plays don't work when blown up into movies. London Road's magic dissipated on the big screen and as for Les Mis? Well, I did stop watching that...

The Seagull is on general release in the UK.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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