After two previous shots at the big screen, Broadway’s Michael Mayer – maybe best known as the Tony award-winning mind behind Spring Awakening – is back, this time with an adaptation of Anton Chekhov‘s The Seagull. Can Mayer bring any of Broadway’s brilliance to a story that’s been adapted twice before?
Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) is the centre of her own world. A self-indulgent, self-obsessed actress, if everyone around Irina isn’t talking about her, she’s talking about herself. When Irina receives news that her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) has been taken ill, she hurries to his bedside, bringing her lover Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a famous novelist, with her. But the pair aren’t given the warmest of welcomes on their return to the house…
We’re suddenly transported back to the previous summer, with the reason for the frosty reception slowly uncovered. The house is full, with Irina, Boris and Sorin joined by Konstantin (Billy Howle), Irina’s son, friend of the family Masha (Elisabeth Moss) and her parents, and various members of staff. By day, our characters eat, drink and gossip. By night, they enjoy Konstantin’s many dull plays, most starring Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a local girl and Konstantin’s love. As the season progresses and Konstantin becomes evermore irritated with his loudmouth mother, his mood turns foul and Nina escapes into the company of Boris. How will Irina, Konstantin and the rest of the house react as the dynamics of their relationships start to shift, potentially changing the future for everyone involved?
As expected with a cast list as impressive as this, the performances by Bening, Stoll, Ronan, Moss and the rest are superb. Bening’s hyperactive Irina is contrasted nicely with Stoll’s relaxed, quietly confident Boris. Moss plays the entertainingly dour Masha brilliantly, with her biting remarks and witty comebacks. And Ronan, three-time Academy Award nominated for a reason, bringing her sweet charm and undeniable talent to yet another role.
Aside from the strong performances and beautiful cinematography – the camera glides from room to room, scene to scene, a nod to the changes of scenery on the stage – The Seagull sits quite comfortably in the historical drama genre, not bringing anything new or exciting to it. While it’s an enjoyable watch for the cast alone, that’s the film’s main point of sale – a shame, considering the Broadway mastermind behind it.
With so many stronger adaptations out there, if heritage drama is your kind of thing, I’d opt for another title (Joe Wright‘s Pride and Prejudice, I’m looking at you). Come for the cast list, stay for their performances. Just don’t expect too much from The Seagull.