The great director Sidney Lumet brought a beautifully acted version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull to the screen in 1968, but apparently it has taken another half-century to get a another version that gives Chekhov’s 1895 play a new spin in movies.
I have to say, the new The Seagull compares favorably to any previous attempt, particularly in bringing out the lighter aspects of what is a very funny piece. Lumet’s version had the likes of James Mason and Vanessa Redgrave among others, and the 2018 model is similarly blessed with a brilliant cast at the top of their game. And though director Michael Mayer and screenwriter Stephen Karam come largely from the American theater, this sparkling version feels anything but theatrical; it has been gloriously shot and is beautifully cinematic.
But as I say in my video review above, it is all on the page and in the playing.
Annette Bening stars as the aging actress Irina, the epicenter of a summer weekend at a Russian country estate where she is visiting her brother Pjotr (Brian Dennehy) and son Konstantine (Billy Howell). They are among a larger group of people caught up in their own roundelay of unrequited love, ever-changing passions, dissertations on life and art, and all sorts of other matters in a sophisticated story where, as the old Dean Martin hit goes, “Everybody loves somebody sometime” — though in this case it is generally someone they can’t have.
Into the mix Irina brings current beau Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), an acclaimed writer taking notes of inspiration provided by those around him during this particular summer holiday. The characters all interconnect in one way or another. Konstantine’s dour plays are mocked, though his muse and love Nina (Saoirse Ronan) does her best to bring them — and him — to life. That is until she becomes smitten with Boris, thereby sending Konstantine further into his emotional abyss.
Whirling around the action are Michael Zegan’s rather hapless Mikhail, Elisabeth Moss’ grim and darkly cynical Masha, Jon Tenney’s attractive but elusive Dr. Dorn, Mare Winningham’s matronly Polina and Glenn Fleshler’s hot-button Ilya. It is all beautifully choreographed by Mayer, who clearly has a knack for the material and gets the human comedy inherent in all of it.
Bening is simply luminous (again) as the self-obsessed but fading actress who can’t seem to give her son the support he desperately craves. Stoll is terrific as is Moss, who is a riot as a woman who dresses only in black and has a personality to match. Ronan and Howell also shine here (and oddly are reteamed in yet another new film, On Chesil Beach, in which their relationship takes a different but similarly difficult path). The entire cast of The Seagull nails it and makes the film perhaps the most entertaining and accessible screen adaptation of this great Russian playwright yet.
Producers are Leslie Urdang, Tom Hulce and Robert Salerno. Sony Pictures Classics puts it into limited release Friday.
Do you plan to see The Seagull? Let us know what you think.