Describing a film as being ‘solid’ always seems like it’s intended as some sort of insult. It isn’t. When describing The Seagull (an adaptation of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s 1895 play) as being ‘solid’ – what is being said is that it is well-made, well-constructed, well-presented and well-performed. It ultises its great subject material to good effect. It’s just not all that a distinctive an adaptation, nor all that a memorable film. It’s the kind of fair we often see getting released at the start of September, just before the films up for awards contention start saturating the screens.
Sorin (Dennehy) is a retired senior civil servant in declining health. His family – actress sister Irina (Bening), her writer-socialite boyfriend Boris (Stoll) and her playwright son Konstantin (Howle) – have come to stay for the summer at Sorin’s country estate. Konstantin has a budding romance with their neighbour Nina (Ronan) and has asked his beloved to perform in the rather unconventional play he has just written. The performance doesn’t go well, mainly thanks to Irina’s obvious disdain for her son’s unique writing style. Such is the result that the drama continues long after the stage has been packed away.
The main problem the film has is how diluted it is. With a mostly American cast, with those who are not American speaking in American accents, the end product feels all-too American period drama rather than a performance of a triumphantly Russian play. The characters may maintain their Russian names and speak the Russian references, it still feels rather soulless. For a play that focuses so much on subtext it feels deprived of much subtlety.
The cast is rather extraordinary, full of much talent. In fact the cast is of such high calibre it’s arrival into cinemas which such little fanfare is something of a red flag, a subconscious allusion to a lack of belief in the end product. Ronan and Howle share screen time for the second time this year, after lukewarm reception of On Chesil Beach. and continue to share little cinematic chemistry. When their relationship disintegrates, Konstantin suffers greatly, yet we’re giving little reason to believe in their relationship and the extent of his devastation when it fails. Stoll continues to be a charismatic presence, yet this is still not his breakout role. Moss is rather underused, providing a surprising amount of depth depth for a rather one-note character – she is clearly trying her best with the material but it’s not her greatest role. Bening is as incredible as to be expected, captivating and sparkling to her fullest extent.
The end result is essentially a solid sunday night drama. Enjoyable yet rather disposable.
Dir: Michael Mayer
Scr: Anton Chekhov, Stephen Karam
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Brian Dennehy, Michael Zegen, Billy Howle
Prd: Jay Franke, David Herro, Tom Hulce, Robert Salerno
DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd
Music: Nico Muhly, Anton Sanko,
Run time: 98 minutes
The Seagull is in UK cinemas now.