Set on a glimmering lakeside estate outside Moscow at the dawn of the 20th century, The Seagull, directed by Michael Mayer and written by Stephen Karam, revives the scandalous romantic entanglements and raucous melodrama made famous in Chekov’s play.
The dramatic ensemble consists of the narcissistic, aging actress Irina (Annette Bening); her son Konstantin (Billy Howle), a depressed yet ardent young writer; his naive girlfriend Nina (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring actress; and celebrity author Boris (Corey Stoll), Irina’s younger lover, who swiftly captures Nina’s eye.
Unrequited love is the web that entwines all our characters—Medvedenko loves Masha, who loves Konstantin, who’s in love with Nina, and so on. The majority of the film sees the characters meandering about the estate tormenting each another—and if that’s not enough to get you to the cinema, I really don’t know what will. Filmgoers beware if you think you’re in for Pride and Prejudice—you’d be wrong. If you’re unfamiliar with Chekov or don’t have a penchant for overblown theatre, the first 30 minutes might make you wish you’d never said yes to that eager theatre dweeb friend of yours.
Karam has done an excellent job in ensuring that Chekov’s sense of humour shines through—he was after all a satirist—something that’s often forgotten or lost in translation. The characters are absurd and insufferable, a trait intrinsic within Chekov’s works, and a nice touch from Karam. Mayer has gone to great lengths to ensure that the storytelling is brisk and engaging. One can appreciate the way Mayer uses creative camera shots to make the experience as cinematic as possible.
The film certainly has its moments; the forbidden attraction between Boris and Nina—though shallow at its core—is electrifying to watch and precipitates the chaos. Bening is brilliant in the role of Irina. She accurately captures the narcissism and desperation of the iconic character. Despite her conceit, Bening’s nuanced performance enables us to see Irena’s fragility when Boris begins to pursue Nina.
Elisabeth Moss is enthralling and rather funny in her portrayal as”‘the miserable Masha,” whose utter devotion to Konstantin plagues her throughout the entirety of the film. Ronan is another standout; she’s both relatable in her child-like naivety and fascinating to watch as her character unravels in the thrilling final scenes.
“I’m the seagull, I’m the seagull!” she exclaims, referring to the seagull Konstantin shot and laid at her feet to symbolise the loss of innocence—one of his many excellent attempts at persuading her to love him.
Many of the performances are well done, but this is no cinematic mega-hit. The prevailing trouble with adapting a movie from a play is that often it does not feel like cinema, it feels like someone recording theatre—and that becomes tedious. Theatre lovers and Chekov fanatics, you might like this rendition, but for the average moviegoer—save your money.
Seagull is showing at the Windsor Cinema now.