THE SEAGULL, Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s first of 4 plays became one of the greatest plays in the history of Russian Theatre when Konstantin Stanislavsky directed it in 1898 for his Moscow Art Theatre. I have never read or seen Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL even though there are previous film adaptations of the play including one directed by Sidney Lumet. So, watching the film unfold, flaws and all, is still an unforgettable experience given the strength of its source material.
The story features four main characters, Irina, her son Konstantin, her lover, Boris and the son’s love, Nina – all torn between love and art.
An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Boris Trigorin (Corely Stoll) a successful novelist and her lover. Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a free and innocent girl from a neighbouring estate who is in a relationship with Konstantin, falls in love with Boris.
The film begins with the climax of the play and returns to it after the main story folds in flashback, a tactic used by director Mayer for the film. This is a common tactic in films to grab the audience’s attention at the start while bringing them back to the same state at a later part of the film. The tactic often works and works in this film as well. The brother Sorin is ill and dying while Irina visits and engages the guests in a game of ‘lotto’ a kind of bingo while something drastic takes place with her son in a back room that climaxes the story and ends the film. But quite the drama has occurred prior to this set of affairs with lives and loves being interchanged as well as unrequited love torn away from a poor woman’s heart. This is the stuff Chekov’s play is born of. Included in the story is the scene where Konstantine shoot and kills an innocent seagull (the story’s metaphor) which is placed at the feet of his true love, Nina.
There are lots of unrequited love in the story, that of Irina, her son and mostly Marsha’s (Elisabeth Moss). Irina brings to the estate the successful playwright, Boris Trigorin who falls for actress wannabe, Nina who falls for him. It is a question of he not able to get what he wants and she not able to get what she wants while each having the quality the oner desires. There is more irony in the artistic play that Konstantin writes that his mother makes fun of. Besides all this fantastic Chekov writing that is incredibly brilliant the way he brings it all together, director Mayer occasionally eclipses the brilliance with his touches. This includes, for example the scene where Konstantin makes silly ‘tweetie-bird’ faces in the mirror while his mother is desperately claiming possession in the next room, or when Kosntatntin plays the piano, the music complementing the activities going on again, in the next room.
The film, which looks fantastic (cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd) was shot on
location at a New York State manor, using almost all natural light. In the nighttime scenes, 95 % of what you see is actually from candle light.
THE SEAGULL benefits greatly again from its actors, particularly its 3 main actresses Benign, Moss and Ronan. Relative newcomer British Billy Howle proves his acting chops as well in quite the major role. There are many reasons to see THE SEAGULL – the performances, the currently relevant tale of art and romance but especially if you are unfamiliar with this Chekhov play.
Director Mayer, who is a Tony Award Winning theatre director (SPRING AWAKENING) should do Chekhov proud with this film adaptation of THE SEAGULL.